Affirmed and Sensitive Prince it is not, but today’s meeting between the top two contenders for next month’s Travers has my full attention.
Day 3 of Road Trip Redux, and I will happily be back at the Spa. A place so special and sacred to me that I get goosebumps just thinking about walking through the gates. There have been improvements since the first time I visited more than 40 years ago, but largely it is the same. The powers that be have, for the most part, resisted the urge to mess with perfection. Today, as always when I visit Saratoga, I am excited to see some of the best thoroughbred horses in American meet on the square. Tonalist and Wicked Strong, facing off in today’s Jim Dandy, fits the bill.
The Belmont winner would appear to have the tactical advantage. On paper, the Jim Dandy has little early speed, and Tonalist should be forwardly placed. Despite exiting the 12-furlong Belmont, I expect his master trainer, Christophe Clement, will have the still lightly raced son of Tapit ready to be on or near the early lead depending how fast, (or slow), they go early. Tonalist is on a roll since returning from sickness to score dynamic victories in the Peter Pan and the Belmont Stakes. Some might complain that it is a shame that Tonalist wasn’t able to make the Kentucky Derby, but I like what we have now. A third straight graded stakes victory today would send him to the Travers ever closer to California Chrome it what still could be a race for the three-year-old championship.
Meanwhile, Wicked Strong has lost two in a row. Don’t be too hard on the son of Hard Spun, though. Since winning the Grade 1 Wood Memorial with a powerful closing run, Wicked Strong has run two solid races. In both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont, he was left with a little much to do down the stretch but finished well in the big fields to finish fourth. He’s been working well for Jimmy Jerkens, and will have an important bit of added equipment today for the Jim Dandy. Blinkers will be added in hopes of helping his charge need a little less to do in that final furlong. If either the blinkers on, or just the Saratoga Springs experience, agrees with Wicked Strong, he could easily kick home a winner, much like he did at Aqueduct in the Wood.
Of course there are other horses, and as we all know, Saratoga is susceptible to the surprise. Remember the Jim Dandy is named the Jim Dandy because the namesake shocked Gallant Fox one summer afternoon in Upstate New York. Of the other five, I like Kid Cruz best, but I really think this race boils down to Tonalist and Wicked Strong, and whichever one proves best today will head to the Mid-Summer Derby as the one to beat.
Whatever happens, let's hope it is half as exciting as my favorite Jim Dandy ...