Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Jim Dandy Stakes

Head to Head: Handicapping the 2021 Jim Dandy Stakes
Photo: Susie Raisher/NYRA

The Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga has long been considered a stepping stone to the Travers Stakes (G1), but it is a prestigious race in its own right. The roll call of past winners includes Street Sense, Bernardini, Medaglia d’Oro, Awesome Again, and Affirmed.

Fast forward to Saturday. The 1 1/8-mile contest attracted six 3-year-olds, including the current top 3-year-old, Essential Quality. Four of the five colts lined up against him are graded stakes winners, while Dr Jack is stakes placed, making for a fairly solid line-up.

Laurie Ross of Pedigree Power and Ashley Tamulonis of Coast To Coast agree on the main threat to champion Essential Quality but see the finish playing out a bit differently.




In the Pegasus Stakes, his first foray into stakes competition, Dr Jack was in the mix in the stretch but was simply outclassed by the big boys, Mandaloun and Weyburn. The no-whip rule may have had something to do with it, as Dr Jack seemed disheartened when Mandaloun passed him effortlessly on the outside, and then Weyburn, whom Dr Jack had seemingly put away, surged to engage Mandaloun. Dr Jack’s speed figures have climbed in each start. A Pioneerof the Nile half-brother to Santa Anita Handicap (G1) winner Idol, Dr Jack is bred to run all day. Additionally, Todd Pletcher is the Jim Dandy's all-time leading trainer, and Jose Ortiz is winning at a 23-percent clip.


The stretch drive in the Pegasus Stakes was a bit weird for me. Aside from the no-whip rule at Monmouth possibly being a factor, it appeared to me that Paco Lopez stopped riding Dr Jack. At one point, Dr Jack had passed Weyburn, then Lopez went still and he rose in the saddle while Florent Geroux (Mandaloun) and Dylan Davis (Weyburn) continued riding to the wire. I don’t know what Lopez was thinking there or if he made a mistake, but I do think Dr Jack could have at least finished closer to the top two. While Mandaloun is not in this race, Dr Jack will have to face champion Essential Quality. I expect to see Dr Jack firmly in the mix at the wire again here.


As is the case with later maturing 3-year-olds, the lightbulb came on for Masqueparade in late March. Al Stall Jr. let Masqueparade run through his conditions until tackling graded competition in June. Stall was rewarded with a half-length victory in the Ohio Derby (G3), but Masqueparade had to fight hard every step with Promise Keeper.


Masqueparade has posted back-to-back triple digit speed figures, but he had to work hard for his Ohio Derby win. At the wire, he just had put Promise Keeper away while King Fury and Keepmeinmind were roaring up on the outside. The son of Upstart has clearly figured this whole racing thing out, but I would not be surprised to see him bounce off that Ohio Derby effort.


Weyburn looked like he would check in third in the Pegasus Stakes but made a renewed effort when Mandaloun passed him in the stretch. While Essential Quality, Keepmeinmind, and Risk Taking fought it out in the Triple Crown races, Weyburn aimed his sights a little lower. The Jimmy Jerkens trainee was very game in the Pegasus, and he earned a triple-digit late-pace figure. He is the main threat to Essential Quality.


Weyburn upset the Gotham Stakes (G3) at huge odds and has since proved that race was no fluke. He checked in fourth in the Wood Memorial (G2), beaten by just three lengths for it all. It was not his best race, but in his last outing, he gave Kentucky Derby runner-up Mandaloun a run for his money, losing the Pegasus by just a neck. His works have been sharp, and Jerkens switches riders from Davis to Irad Ortiz, Jr. Essential Quality better watch his back around this one.   



Keepmeinmind closed with a rush, missing the victory in the Ohio Derby by a diminishing half-length. One-run closers are at a disadvantage in route races at Saratoga. So far this meet, the pressers and pacesetters are grabbing all the awards.


I adore Keepmeinmind, but he just has not been able to run down the winners since annexing the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) last year. His best finish since then was his third in the Ohio Derby, giving me hope that he might find the winner’s circle at some point this year. I don’t think it will be here, though, as he has already had a couple cracks at Essential Quality this year and has not yet beat him. Use to fill out your superfecta.


The Belmont Stakes champ uses the Jim Dandy as a Travers Stakes tune-up. Essential Quality towers above these in class and performance.


The lone blemish on Essential Quality’s record is his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He came back and dominated the Belmont Stakes five weeks later. The cut back in distance makes him even more dangerous. It will take a racehorse to beat him.


Risk Taking cuts back in distance and class in hopes of regaining his Withers Stakes (G3) form. This looks like a tough spot, and the Chad Brown trainee appears outclassed.


Risk Taking is an interesting one. He finished seventh and sixth in his first two starts, then seemed to figure things out in winning starts three and four, including the Withers. He then finished seventh in the Wood Memorial as the favorite and a very distant eighth in the Preakness Stakes. His speed figures have declined in his last three starts, making him a pass for me.

Final Thoughts

Laurie: Saratoga isn’t called the “graveyard of favorites” for no reason. The Jim Dandy is a prime example; the last favorite to prevail was Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice in 2013. He and Alpha (2012) are the only winning favorites in the last decade.

It is too easy to pick Essential Quality on top and throw a dart to see who completes the superfecta. I have never been one to do things the easy way. The only chink in Essential Quality’s armor is his 12-point speed figure jump from the Kentucky Derby to the Belmont Stakes. Yes, he has had plenty of time to recover, but it is possible the pretty gray colt will regress. 

Weyburn, Dr Jack, and Masqueparade may mix it up on the front end in the Jim Dandy with Essential Quality not far behind. Keepmeinmind will hang out at the back of the pack with Risk Taking.  I am going to give Weyburn a shot at victory. Mandaloun is no slouch, having placed second in the Kentucky Derby and most recently, captured the Haskell Stakes (G1).

Ashley: You might do things the hard way, Laurie, but I have to go the easy route here. Essential Quality is a heck of a colt and was really darn close to winning the Kentucky Derby despite being parked wide the entire trip and running further than the three colts that finished in front of him.

I agree that Weyburn is the main threat to the heavy favorite, but he is going to need to bring that same effort we saw in the Pegasus. As for Keepmeinmind, we all know what they say the definition of insanity is, and I am incredibly guilty when it comes to the son of the late Laoban. 




#5 Essential Quality (1-2)

#3 Weyburn (6-1)

#3 Weyburn (6-1)

#5 Essential Quality (1-2)

#2 Masqueparade (4-1)

#1 Dr Jack (15-1)

#4 Keepmeinmind (6-1)

#2 Masqueparade (4-1)

Meet Ashley Tamulonis

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, which led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation covering racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues and, from time to time, offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry. A move North to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the From Coast to Coast blog for HRN. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband, Chris, and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.

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