As the Jim Dandy field came spinning out of the far turn, it appeared that Tonalist was poised to pounce on Wicked Strong. It never happened. The Robert S. Evans owned Belmont Stakes winner was clearly beaten, as the second choice had plenty left in reserve and methodically edged away from Tonalist down the Saratoga stretch. With all due respect to the Wood Memorial and Jim Dandy winner, don’t expect that to happen again. Or at least, don’t look for the same finish in the Travers two weeks from today. Wicked Strong is a very good horse, as is the speedy Haskell winner, Bayern, and for that matter, there are several other good horses pointing for the Mid-Summer Derby, but for my money, Tonalist is the one to beat.
Winning the 12 furlong Belmont Stakes in thrilling fashion is no easy feat for a colt making only his fifth lifetime start. Tonalist did just that, and the Travers was soon mapped out as the next major goal for the Christophe Clement trained budding star. To get to that end, the Jim Dandy was utilized as the vehicle to get the son of Tapit there in tip-top shape. Even in a losing effort, second by 2 ¼ lengths to Wicked Strong, I believe the mission was accomplished.
Tonalist looked like a million bucks, showing no wear and tear from his Belmont victory, before the Jim Dandy. Big strong, fit, and healthy, Tonalist looked the part of a classic winner. Problem was, he did not get out of the gate like one. Looking like a big kid not sure of his footing for the first several strides out of the wire, he lost the jump to his main rival, and with little early pace in the race, he was up against it from there. If the Grade 2 race had been the big one, the runner-up finish would have been a big disappointment. It was not. While Wicked Strong needed to make a statement, it was a tightener between the Belmont to the Travers for Tonalist, and a perfect one at that.
His first breeze since the Jim Dandy - five furlongs in 1:03.36 over the Oklahoma training track this morning - may not seem like much, but I liked what I saw, and I suspect his master conditioner is very happy with where he has his charge two weeks removed from the Travers.
Not afraid to train outside of the box, note that Tonalist set out several lengths ahead of his workmate, the capable, Life in Shambles, with exercise rider Alvaro Hernandez in the irons. As the breeze began at the half mile pole, note how Tonalist still looked to be in a gallop as Life in Shambles quickly joined him to his outside. With his workmate breathing down his neck, Tonalist turned it up a little and matched his partner head-and-head to the wire. By the time they passed the finish line, Tonalist began to exert his superiority and was pulling away as the pair reached the seven-eighths pole. A strong gallop out quickly left Life in Shambles well behind.
It is not the most common way to do it, to have the ‘big horse’ break out on top, but it is all in the teaching, and Tonalist looked to thrive on the pressure to his outside.
"He's hardly blowing, so, obviously, [the Jim Dandy] did him a lot of good," said Christophe Lorieul, assistant to trainer Christophe Clement. "He was moving well, no problem. I liked the gallop out. He went away from the other horse. Nothing fancy today. We'll try to bring him back next week. The plan is to work him next Saturday."