By Jarrod Horak
This weekend’s stakes action at Saratoga features an intriguing renewal of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy. The co-feature on Saturday is the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt and that race will probably be a battle between Elite Power and Gunite. Sunday’s main event is the Grade 2 Bowling Green on turf.
Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap – July 29 – Race 8 – 6 furlongs dirt
Last year’s champion sprinter Elite Power has not lost a race in over a year. He misfired his first three career starts and looked to be going nowhere fast. He perked up with a big maiden win on June 5, 2022, and breezed through his next two allowance conditions. He stepped up and dominated the Vosburgh (G2) and rallied to win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That was the end of his sensational 4-year-old campaign, and he has not lost a beat this year. He shipped to Saudi Arabia and easily took the $1.5 million Riyadh Dirt Sprint (G3), and returned to this country and stalked and scored in the Grade 2 True North at Belmont on June 10. He has now won seven straight and could easily score again. Irad Ortiz Jr. is 2-for-2 with him and he is 1-for-1 at Saratoga.
Gunite is a quality dirt sprinter for Steve Asmussen. The consistent 4-year-old colt enjoys Saratoga and six panels, and he should get the jump on the Elite Power. He won his last four dirt sprint stakes in this country. He was second best in the Riyadh Dirt Sprint and was a close third in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) after that. He returned to the states and was best in the Aristides Stakes on June 3.
Dean Delivers is the other viable top three contender in this spot. He stalked and scored in the Big Drama Stakes on May 20, and wired the field from the inside post in the Grade 3 Smile Sprint on July 1. The sharp early-pressing Florida shipper drew a comfortable post but seems a cut or two below the two favorites.
The field is completed by Gun It, Synthesis, Awesome Aaron, and Little Vic.
Elite Power will be tough to hold off but Gunite is playable as the second betting choice.
Grade 2 Jim Dandy – July 29 – Race 10 – 1 1/8 miles dirt
An intriguing group of five sophomores will slug it out in this local prep for the Grade 1 Travers. There is a good chance of thunderstorms and a wet track would definitely complicate things.
Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion, is the morning line favorite. The four-time Grade 1 winner exits a solid runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes. That was his first start in 10 weeks and he has every right to go a bit better in this spot. He adds blinkers for this engagement.
Disarm, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, will break from the inside post for Joel Rosario and Steve Asmussen. He exits a smart stalk and pounce victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes in the slop.
Brad Cox entered three and they all have different running styles. Lightly raced Saudi Crown likes to set the pace. He just missed in the Dwyer (G3) last time. Hit Show projects a stalking trip. He won the Withers (G3) at this distance earlier this year. Angel of Empire is the final Cox trainee, and the late runner is 2-for-2 at a mile and an eighth.
Check out my video preview of the Jim Dandy below.
Grade 2 Bowling Green – July 30 – Race 9 – 1 3/8 miles inner turf course
Chad Brown is always well represented in these turf stakes affairs and this race is no exception. He has Highest Honors and Rockemperor (IRE) in this one, and the latter captured this event last summer. He has never been the most reliable performer and you are never quite sure what you are going to get from the veteran gelding.
Rebel’s Romance, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf hero, is back in the states for Charles Appleby. He was up the track in his lone 2023 outing in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1) in March. He captured five races last year and could easily get back on the winning track as the likely favorite.
Shug McGaughey’s sharp runner Never Explain tries to navigate an additional two furlongs and figures to work out a decent stalking trip under Luis Saez. He is 0-for-3 at Saratoga.
Soldier Rising is a consistent closer in these turf marathons. He was along for the show in the local Sword Dancer (G1) last summer, and exits back-to-back Grade 1 place finishes in the Man o’ War and Manhattan. Jose Ortiz knows him well and Christophe Clement’s Frankel gelding will try to get involved in the late stages.
Tawny Port was a dual dirt route stakes winner in 2022 for Brad Cox. He went off from after last summer’s Jim Dandy Stakes and Christophe Clement has him now. He was a decent all-weather performer and his dam Livi Makenzie has produced a turf winner, so I would not be surprised if he handled the new footing. He is an interesting longshot under Joel Rosario.
Verstappen, front runner Strong Quality, The Grey Wizard, 9-year-old gelding Channel Maker, and also-eligible Daunt round out the field.
Rebel’s Romance looks tough to beat in the paper race. The two biggest dangers to the favorite appear to be Never Explain and Soldier Rising, and Tawny Port might be able to spice up the exotics.
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