Second Half Of 3-Year Old Season Gets Underway With Dandy Invitation


Grade II Jim Dandy Saturday At Saratoga
Grade I Haskell Invitational Sunday At Monmouth

This weekend “unofficially” marks the start to the second half of the 2014 three-year old Championship Season.

At Saratoga on Saturday seven three-year olds, including Grade I Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist and Grade I Wood Memorial winner Wicked strong as well as Grade III winner Kid Cruz and Grade I placed Commanding Curve and graded stakes placed Cousin Stephen and Ulanbator will do battle in the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes. The 1 1/8 mile test will be run as the 10th of 11 races in the card and is the traditional local prep for the “Mid-Summer derby Travers Stakes in late August.

Not to be outdone by Saratoga, Monmouth Park officials have put together quite a three-year old stakes of their own as 9 runners are set to go forward in the Showcase by the Shore Grade I Haskell Invitational on Sunday.

In the Haskell the anticipated run-against-the-boys entry of 3-year old fill Untapable brings plenty of juice to the race. The filly is a perfect 4-for-4 in 2014, all Graded Stakes, including a pair of Grade I tallies in her last pair the Kentucky Oaks at CD and the Mother Goose at Belmont Park.

It is quite a statement of respect for the Steve Asmussen trainee, who has won the four races by an average margin of 7 ¾ lengths and has been installed as the 5-2 ML favorite in a field that features  the likes of Grade III Derby Trial and Grade II Woody Stephens winner Bayern, local Grade II Pegasus winner and Grade II Risen Star runner up Albano, Social Inclusion, who finished third in the Grade I Wood, Grade I Preakness and Grade II Woody Stephens, Grade III Hutcheson and Grade II Fountain of Youth winner and Grade I Florida Derby runner up Wildcat Red and Grade I Blue Grass runner up and Grade I Belmont Stakes third place finisher Medal Count.

Below is a preview of the Jim Dandy…on Saturday morning we’ll post the preview of Sunday’s Haskell Invitational so make certain to check back.


In Saturday’s Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes, Peter Pan and Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist will return for his first race since a hard fought win over Commissioner, Medal Count (who will go in the Haskell tomorrow) and Wicked Strong in the Grade I Belmont Stakes 6 weeks ago.

One of the key aspects of this race is that all those exiting the Belmont Stakes will be cutting back from 12 furlongs to 9 furlongs in the Jim Dandy, which has been the ultimate prep in recent years for the 10 furlong Travers Stakes that will be run 4 weeks from Saturday on August 23.

Of the three runners “shortening up” from the Belmont Stakes, it was Tonalist who showed much better tactical speed than both Wicked Strong and Commanding Curve, who scratched out of Friday’s softer Curlin Stakes to run here and based on what he showed in winning that race despite being wide throughout would indicate he is a deserving favorite.

Let’s take a look at the seven 3-year olds that are expected to run on Saturday.

COUSIN STEPHEN (12-1) – In his first race since a third place finish in the Grade III Sam Davis followed by a disappointing sixth in the Grade II Tampa bay Derby the Chad Brown trainee was taken out of serious training from early March to early May and after 5 weeks of works returned to win a confidence builder in an entry level allowance race at PARX on June 16. The son of Proud Citizen returns here following a quartet of half mile breezes (each in :48 and a fraction) so at least appears back in cycle. Whether this colt is up to the top class in here is another question and surprisingly trainer Chad Brown, who tore it up at the recent Belmont meet is only 2 for 18 heading into Friday racing. That being said, Cousin Stephen is a tricky read because the race is stocked with stalkers and closers and given the speedy early going at PARX in the allowance win, John Velazquez (leading percentage jock as of Thursday finish at 23%) might send him to the lead from the rail and the colt might get brave.

LEGEND (12-1) – The James Bond trained ridgeling needed four tries to break his maiden and in his first against winners he followed Kid Cruz home a distant second with a sustained 4 wide trip in the Easy Goer Stakes on Belmont Stakes day. The Tiznow colt has yet to live up to expectations but given how lightly raced he is, the 250K yearling purchase might be ready to move forward if his :59 4/5 breeze over the surface 7/5, his 1:13 breeze on 7/12 and his 1:02 2/5 lung cleaner on 7/19 leading up to a perfect in sequence race 7 days later are any indication. We’ve had surprises before in the Jim Dandy but to get a piece this guy would have to show major improvement.

ULANBATOR (15-1) – At 15-1 this Oflee Wild colt is worth a look. It took the Ian Wilkes trainee a while to figure it out but in his last two he has been a bit under the radar as he rallied to finish a good second behind early spring graded stakes winner and triple crown involved Tapiture before stumbling at the start and recovering to run third in a relatively pace-less Grade III Dwyer at Belmont 3 weeks ago. If the last two indicate an improving horse he might move forward enough to back end the gimmicks, but on the other hand he was no match for Legend when those two met in a MSW test at GP won by Ring Weekend back in February. Capable Julien Leparoux takes the irons.

TONALIST (8-5) – If you are a fan of this colt then you should hope that the love affair that seemed to develop around Wicked Strong leading up to the Belmont Stakes is still in place because otherwise there is little chance of you getting 8-5 at post time. Given his brilliant effort in the Peter Pan and Belmont Stakes only the negative at any cost naysayers who contend he is a Belmont horse-for-course are non-members of an expanding group of well-regarded analysts who believe, California Chrome notwithstanding, that this is the best 3-year old in racing (outside of what we’ll find out about the filly Untapable in tomorrow’s Haskell.) As is his method, trainer Christophe Clement has been very patient with the son of Tapit and not a lot of deep thinking or analysis is necessary to believe in the probability of another victory as he moves towards the Travers Stakes and perhaps the BC Classic. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The colt has had the kind of in-hand work pattern since the Belmont win that indicates he is holding perfect form and simply put. If he runs the same race he ran in the Belmont…using tactical speed to stalk the pace before moving he gets it done. And if gets a better trip than he did in the Belmont, he could win handily.

KID CRUZ – 8-1 – So which Kid Cruz shows up in the Jim Dandy…the one who dominated slightly lesser in winning 4 out of his last 5 races, all of the stakes variety…the Private Terms at Laurel the Federico Tesio at Pimlico, and the Easy Goer on Belmont Stakes day and the Grade III Dwyer at Belmont 3 weeks ago or the colt that was a no-excuse well beaten 8th in the Preakness when in against the top level 3-year olds in the Preakness Stakes? The answer is most likely somewhere in between and if on paper the race goes through Tonalist and Wicked Strong it is not inconceivable to see this guy getting the first run before Commanding Curve (unless that one finally utilizes the speed they have been trying to build into him in the a.m.) It would have been nice to see a work over the surface but trainer Linda Rice has done little wrong since claiming him for 50K back in a maiden race in November of his juvenile season. Irad Ortiz, who was aboard for the last two wins once again gets the leg up.

COMMANDING CURVE (5-1) – To their credit the public did not get as carried away by the trumpeting of pundits who never seem to learn that a deep close past tiring front runners for a longshot placing in the Kentucky Derby does not automatically signal a sharp Belmont Stakes effort simply because there is more ground. The son of Master Command has shown promise (second in the Kentucky Derby after a third in the Louisiana Derby) but promise has not led to winner’s circle success so it is probably prudent, if you do like this Dallas Stewart trainee’s prospects, to use him somewhere underneath in the gimmicks. The problem is he keeps teasing. Just as he did when he worked a sharp :47 1/5 breeze 6 days before the Belmont and many said he’ll be closer than he was in the Derby, so did he turn in a sharp 5 furlong breeze in 1:00 2/5 last Saturday. He is difficult to leave off but in a 7 horse field that might see a half mile in :48 2/5 or so, should you use him you might be asking, “Did he begin moving yet?”

WICKED STRONG (2-1) – It is possible his 2-1 ML is more a reflection of the competition than his chances of winning the race. Is he a capable race horse in capable hands and ridden by a capable jockey? Yes, yes and yes. Trainer James Jerkens has a small barn of quality that wins at a 26% rate. Rajiv Maragh is at 23% on the year and has won 3 of 14 at Saratoga heading into Friday and has hit the board 50% of the time. As for Wicked Strong, any horse that was good enough to win the Wood memorial and run 4th in the Kentucky Derby after stumbling at the break and running into traffic certainly has shown enough to win the Jim Dandy. And there is no question that collectively he has run better against better company than only Tonalist. But he is also only 2 for 8 in his career so even if he drifts to 5-2 or thereabouts as Tonalist drifts down to 6-5 or even money, he is not by any stretch a bargain in the win spot. All that being said, he has worked brilliantly with a pair of 1:13 breezes for 6 furlongs…the most recent coming last Saturday and the prior eight days before that. He is sitting on a solid effort and (a very big “and”) trainer Jerkens puts the blinkers on in hopes for more focus.

Don’t’ forget to check back in here Saturday morning as I publish my preview for the Haskell.


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