The post-Triple Crown racing scene continues to heat up as the nation’s top 3-year-old Thoroughbreds embark on summer campaigns and attempt to seize leadership of a muddled division.
The three U.S. Triple Crown races were won by three different horses, so Saturday’s $600,000, Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course is a prime opportunity for someone to secure a rich victory and stake their claim as a favorite for next month’s $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes.
Only five horses were entered in the Jim Dandy, but four are graded stakes-winning Triple Crown alumni. Among the biggest names is #2 Epicenter, who defeated tough competition to win the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby during the winter and spring at Fair Grounds.
These flashy performances established Epicenter as the 4.10-1 favorite to win the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, a race in which Epicenter produced a wholeheartedly gallant performance. Despite racing much closer to a historically fast pace than the other top finishers, Epicenter battled on down the homestretch to finish second, beaten by only three-quarters of a length by deep-closing longshot Rich Strike.
Epicenter subsequently was favored to win the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, and again he ran a determined race under challenging circumstances. Epicenter seemed just a bit sluggish early on and got squeezed between rivals, dropping much farther off the early pace than usual. But Epicenter never gave up and came rallying along the rail to finish second, beaten 1 1/4 lengths while gaining 2 3/4 lengths in the final furlong alone.
Epicenter would be an obvious choice to win the Jim Dandy if not for the presence of #4 Early Voting, who upset Epicenter in the Preakness. The improving son of Gun Runner is a neck away from being undefeated in four starts, with his lone defeat coming by a neck against future Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Mo Donegal in a fast renewal of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino.
In the Preakness, Early Voting put his abundant tactical speed to good use, tracking a steady early pace before kicking on sharply down the stretch to defeat Epicenter in comfortable fashion. This is significant since the Jim Dandy field doesn’t contain a lot of speed on paper, and Early Voting — who posted a gate-to-wire win in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes during the winter — may secure an uncontested early lead.
A slow pace could prove detrimental to #5 Zandon, stretch-running winner of the Grade 1 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes during the spring at Keeneland. Zandon capitalized on the hot Kentucky Derby pace to rally and finish third, just three-quarters of a length behind Epicenter. He did show a bit more tactical speed as a juvenile, finishing second by a nose in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes after tracking a pedestrian tempo, but Zandon has done his best work rallying from far behind and is unlikely to receive enough pace to employ those tactics in the Jim Dandy.
Completing the Jim Dandy field are #3 Tawny Port and #1 Western River. Tawny Port ran solidly to finish seventh in the Kentucky Derby and sandwiched that defeat between victories against easier competition in the Grade 3 Stonestreet Lexington Stakes and Grade 3 Ohio Derby. He’s finished behind Epicenter and Zandon on a couple of occasions and looks like the fourth betting choice in the Jim Dandy, but if one of the favorites falters, a trifecta finish isn’t out of the question.
Western River is shaping up as a longshot after finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes during the spring at Belmont Park, his lone graded stakes appearance to date. But Western River bounced back to defeat older rivals in a 1 1/2-mile allowance race at Churchill Downs, so stamina isn’t an issue for this Tapit colt. If an unexpectedly fast pace unfolds, Western River could potentially rally late to pick up the pieces.
So how should we bet the Jim Dandy? Let’s start by counting on Early Voting to parlay his tactical advantage into a gate-to-wire victory. Then we’ll use Epicenter and Zandon equally for second- and third-place, figuring that Epicenter — after a very busy and consistent winter/spring campaign — might have less upside for summer improvement than Zandon, who has moved forward with every start of his relatively brief career to date.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$5 trifecta: 4 with 2,5 with 2,5 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $5 trifecta 4 with 2,5 with 2,5
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$10 trifecta: 4 with 2,5 with 2,5 ($20)
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $10 trifecta 4 with 2,5 with 2,5
$5 superfecta: 4 with 2,5 with 2,5 with 3 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 9th race, $5 superfecta 4 with 2,5 with 2,5 with 3
Good luck, and enjoy the race!
Ricardo Santana, Jr.
September Farm, LLC, Union Park Thoroughbreds, LLC, Black Fern LLC, Motley, Michael, Motley, Tammy and Storyteller Racing
Mt. Brilliant Broodmares I, LLC & TapitSyndicate