Tonalist to Beat in Jim Dandy
If the summer at Saratoga is an ever-building crescendo toward late August's Travers Stakes, the Jim Dandy - the prep race for the Mid Summer Derby - is the first noticeable dynamic change.
This year the Grade II, mile and an eighth route around the main track is headlined by Cristophe Clement's Tonalist - a winner of three of his four races this year and fresh off a dream-ending score in what was expected to be the Belmont Stakes of California Chrome's coronation.
The 8/5 favorite will face five rivals on Saturday, including two he bested that day in early June.
1 - Cousin Stephens - 12/1: Scratch
2 - Legend - 12/1: In five career starts, Legend has yet to finish worse than fourth, and has finished first or second in each of his last four; he was second his last time out in the only stakes race of his young career, the Easy Goer. The competition this Jimmy Bond trainee faced in those races, though, leaves something to be desired. Jockey Luis Saez will have him close to the lead for much of the race, but I wouldn't expect him near it at the end.
3 - Ulanbator - 15/1: This Ian Wilkes trainee has run in the money each of his last four races, including a second and third place finish in a pair of graded stakes races. That record would be more than solid against some, but doesn't look like much versus the field he's facing Saturday.
4 - Tonalist - 8/5: Trainer Christophe Clement sounded cool and confident speaking to reporters at his barn on Friday. "I'm very happy...the timing is great, he's plenty fit enough...Very, very exciting for the owner and all of us here," he said. Before winning the Belmont Stakes last out, the colt was a very impressive winner of the Peter Pan Stakes in similar style, on or near the pace, and it appears he'll be gifted that type of trip again in the Dandy. As such, he's a just - very just - favorite.
5 - Kid Cruz - 8/1: If Linda Rice decides to let Kid Cruz run on Saturday - he may end up pointed toward the West Virginia Derby instead - expect the colt to sit off the pace but run on like a freight train at the end. That's been the style he's used throughout his career - though he sat closer than he ever has before last out in his win in the Dwyer - and it's worked for him, even in races without speed. With only six horses running, even if there isn't much pace, expect a solid effort from this Irad Ortiz mount.
6 - Commanding Curve - 5/1: After shocking the world and running second in the Kentucky Derby, Commanding Curve returned to expected form in the Belmont, running a never-threatening ninth. He'll run a better race Saturday, but with the pace expected to be an easy one, you may not notice.
7 - Wicked Strong - 2/1: A late-running score in Belmont's Wood Memorial split the public's opinion of Wicked Strong. To some, he became their darling heading into the Kentucky Derby. Others, though, thought the performance, and the horse, was only "so so." A pair of 4th place finishes in the Derby and Belmont didn't help end the debate. I landed firmly in the "so so" camp, and still stay there. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens told reporters he'd like the colt closer to Saturday's lead which will help, but, regardless, I don't think he's a horse who can beat Tonalist.
And, really, I don't think a horse in this field can can beat Tonalist. If Cousin Stephens wasn't scratched and was, instead running on Saturday, perhaps the pace would be quick enough to cause the colt problems. But Cousin Stephens is scratched, he won't be running, and the pace won't cause the Belmont winner any problems at all. Tonalist will wire the field for his third straight win. Linda Rice's Kid Cruz will come up for second, with Wicked Strong following suit for third.