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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, July 29, 2016 at 4:15 PM

TOP 3 YEAR OLDS IN ACTION AT SARATOGA AND MONMOUTH...

6 KENTUCKY DERBY RUNNERS, 8 TRIPLE CROWN RUNNERS SQUARE OFF IN JIM DANDY AND HASKELL INVITATIONAL

I have seen 6 horse fields before which are relatively competitive despite the short number. But given that the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday and The Grade I Haskell Invitational on Sunday drew as many top 3-year olds in training as they did allows me to say that these are two of the most competitive 6 horse fields I have seen in recent memory.

Today we'll take a look at the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga and on Saturday have some thoughts on the Haskell.

IS MOHAYMEN QUESTIONABLE AS THE JIM DANDY FAVORITE?

At Saratoga the Grade II Jim Dandy, a 9 furlong test that is the traditional final prep for the Grade I Travers on the next to last Saturday of the meet, MOHAYMEN has been installed as the 9-5 ML favorite.

When last seen MOHAYMEN finished a capable enough but non-threatening fourth in the Kentucky Derby. That race followed a disappointing fourth in the Grade I Florida Derby, which ended the colt's 5 race win streak to begin his career and in the Kentucky Derby the public was lukewarm as they sent him off at 11.80-1.

Now MOHAYMEN returns off a considerable break and does so following a series of solid drills at Saratoga, both on the deeper and more demanding training center and the main track. I understand the line-maker's decision, someone has to be the speculative ML favorite. I wonder if this is as much due to the incredible start by red hot trainer Kieran McLaughlin as it is to the colt's perceived ability. After all, McLaughlin headed into Friday racing having won with 7 of his first 10 starters. The conditioner also sticks with MOHAYMEN'S regular rider Junior Alvarado who has ridden two of McLaughlin's runners at the meet and won with both.

Remember, the ML maker is simply speculating how the public will bet, not putting his own standards of how strong the horse is in comparison to his competition.

I mention this because I think there are numerous angles to break down and handicapping avenues to travel.

Of the 5 rivals MOHAYMEN will face in the Jim Dandy, CREATOR and DESTIN also competed in the Kentucky Derby while LAOBAN joined the Triple Crown action in the Preakness and GOVERNOR MALIBU joined the Triple Crown parade in the Belmont as both CREATOR and DESTIN returned in leg three as well after skipping the Preakness.

As a handicapper who faces a race that features a compact field of high level runners one of the first things that needs be considered is pace.

Looking at pace one is drawn to DESTIN. The well-bread Todd Pletcher trained son of Giant's Causeway ran as courageous a non-winning race as a horse can run when he made all the pace in the Belmont Stakes and was caught in the final stride by CREATOR. On paper the only other 3-year old in the race that would run early with DESTIN is LAOBAN (more on him in a minute.)

The only time that DESTIN was not battling on the front end was when he broke out at the start and got in a tangle in the Kentucky Derby. He recovered well and was a sneaky good 6th as he did not give up ground throughout the race. This is why he should be looked at as the pace setter.

Speaking of LAOBAN, his contribution to the race appears to be as a challenger early to DESTIN, but looking at his overall body of work one has to demand very high odds if one wishes to back him. He prepped for this by flashing speed and then dropping back late in the Grade III Dwyer at Belmont thee weeks ago. However, that was at a mile and it is also worth noting that LAOBAN is still a maiden after 7 career starts. He will be ridden by leading jock Jose Ortiz but he looks to be a pop and stop and the only competitor that would be difficult to see as a factor.

The remaining three colts, CREATOR, GOVERNOR MALIBU and RACE ME HOME are each intriguing and challenging in their own right and bring more than enough credentials to the mix that a bettor might expect to get some value out of the race with the right combinations.

Both CREATOR and GOVERNOR MALIBU ran solid races in the Belmont Stakes and each was given plenty of time to recover in preparation for this.

CREATOR of course upset the Belmont with a phenomenal late charge which outgunned DESTIN and the oncoming Lani at the wire. For his part, GOVERNOR MALIBU ran a strong fourth given the trouble he had when in tight along the rail when it appeared he was about to make a strong stretch try.

Heading into the Belmont Stakes CREATOR had all sorts of problems in the Kentucky Derby when he was checked and bumped hard early and never allowed to get position for his run. Many then questioned if the Belmont Stakes would suit his one run late rush...the kind of rush he made to win the Grade I Arkansas Derby.

The Belmont Stakes winner answered that question and now trainer Steve Asmussen goes back to the 9 furlong distance in what figures to be preparation for the Travers. There are a number of handicapping questions that must be answered about the son of leading sire Tapit.

First, if the pace is relatively soft will jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. demand that the colt use every bit of energy to get the win or judiciously settle for a solid improve position finish that sets it up for the Mid-Summer derby?

Second, seeing that the colt was much closer to the pace in the Belmont Stakes and will be racing off good works following a similar freshening (7 weeks since the Belmont after 5 weeks between the Derby and Belmont) can CREATOR get the job done without draining the tank?

As for GOVERNOR MALIBU, he is just as interesting because there is credible argument to be made that his trouble in the stretch in the Belmont Stakes might have not only cost him a placing but the win.

What makes GOVERNOR MALIBU pliable in this compact field is that he has never run a bad race in his 8 race career, has shown he can stalk the pace, come from a tracking position or even press if necessary. This versatility is what must be considered when as a handicapper I look to construct how I project the race will be run.

Most horses of this caliber are solid workers but it is a big plus that trainer Christophe Clement has this son of Malibu Moon "in hand,' as three straight 5 furlong breezes in 1:01 and change each time and exactly 7 days apart with the Jim dandy on the seventh day would indicate. Joel Rosario stays abroad and the colt is as real as any, especially with a clean trip.

Finally there is the bane of many handicappers, the unknown commodity that cannot be easily dismissed.

I spoke earlier about pace in a compact field and although the late developing RACE ME HOME, a son of multiple graded stakes winner Oasis Dream is facing graded stakes company for the first time he is the kind of runner who has tactical enough speed to run even and pick up a piece at a price should others mix it up on the front end or wait too long to rally. After a well rated and non-taxing second in the Easy Goer Stakes at a mile on Belmont Stakes day trainer Dale Romans backed off a bit and has trained him steadily for his first try against this kin. The colt is not a complete toss.

In conclusion, this might be a compact field, but as you can see the race still demands many handicapping appraisals and I have made them all.

I'll have the winner and exotic for the Jim dandy as well as the longshot winner of the Grade I Vanderbilt Stakes which proceeds it and a couple of other best bet plays. Click here

REMINDER - visit these pages again on Saturday afternoon as I take you through the handicapping challenges and productive notes regarding the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth.

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