July 29 Saturday's Jim Dandy at Saratoga not only settled nothing in the muddled 3-year-old ranks but actually added some contenders for next month's looming showdown in the Travers.
While the Jim Dandy was the sparkler on top of the weekend cupcake, some hot sprint events set the stage for an exciting second half of the year from coast to coast.
It's summer. It's hot. And so is the racing. Let's get going, starting with those goofy 3-year-olds.
Well, the 3-year-old picture didn't get any clearer thanks to Saturday's $600,000 Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga. Tax, who finished 15th in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Belmont Stakes, stalked the pace, led in the stretch and held on to win by 3/4 length over the favorite, Tacitus. The latter stumbled badly at the start and took a long time to settle before jockey Jose Ortiz could get him into contention.
Global Campaign, who missed the Triple Crown campaign, was along for third. Tax, an Arch gelding trained by Danny Gargan, ran 1 1/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.28 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons.
The win was Tax's third. He was claimed out of the first win at Keeneland in October for $50,000 and won the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct two months later.
With the $1.25 million Grade I Travers on Aug. 24 still looming as a showdown for the 3-year-old set, Gargan stated the obvious -- "It's a wide-open division."
Gargan said the plan is to have Tax join many of the top players in the Travers and he feels his gelding has a chance. "He was unfortunate a couple of times. The Derby was a throw-out race because of the way the break went and the way the track was. If you take the Derby out, he's run as good as anyone all year. With the right trip and the right situation, he can be right there."
Another hoof went up for attention in the 3-year-old muddle as Highest Honors rallied from last to win Friday's $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga by 1 1/2 lengths over Endorsed. The favorite, Looking at Bikinis, was another 5 lengths back after 9 furlongs over a muddy, sealed track. With Jose Ortiz riding, Highest Honors finished in 1:52.27, owned by his breeder, W.S. Farish and trained by Chad Brown, finished second in his career debut at Keeneland in April, then won at Belmont before tackling the Curlin.
The Travers is "a race we've been thinking about for a long time, knowing the horse wasn't going to get on the Derby trail early," Brown said of Highest Honors. "He had some problems as a 2-year-old and he got started late this year. We always thought he was very talented and the Travers was the dream."
Brown also trains Looking at Bikinis and offered no excuse for his showing. "Maybe with a different trip or different tactics, he can redeem himself. Whether that's the Travers or not, I'm not sure," the trainer said.
Imperial Hint, last year's winner, was let go at odds of nearly 6-1 in Saturday's $350,000 Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga -- and promptly romped home first by 4 lengths. Diamond Oops, a quickly improving 4-year-old, got by the odds-on favorite, Mitole, in the late going to take second. Imperial Hint, in his first start since finishing third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan March 30, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in track-record time of 1:07.92.
Between last year's Vanderbilt and Saturday's, the now-6-year-old son of Imperialism made only four starts, winning the Grade I Vosburg, then finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and his 2019 debut in Florida before the Dubai race, where he finished behind Roy H and Whitmore.
Winning trainer Luis Carjaval Jr. said he was concerned Imperial Hint might not be at his peak for the race. "We thought he was a little short because we lost a week of training with the weather back in New Jersey," Carjaval said. "This horse keeps surprising me and surprising everybody ... When I looked at the times, my hairs stood up. Last year, he gave me my first Grade 1, and this year he breaks the track record. It's an amazing feeling."
At Del Mar, Cistron went quickly to the front in Saturday's $300,000 Grade Bing Crosby Stakes and led throughout, holding on by 1/2 length over Desert Law under the wire. Jalen Journey was third and the favorite, Recruiting Ready, faded badly late to finish sixth of seven. Cistron, a 5-year-old son of The Factor, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:09.95 for jockey Victor Espinoza, earning a "Win and You're In" berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Cistron now has two wins and two seconds from his last four starts, all graded stakes.
"Once he got away and got in the clear, he gets energy from that," said Cistron's trainer, John Sadler. "He had a super work over this track, a bullet, and he showed up for the big race today. We've got so many moveable parts (i.e., versatile horses) I'm not sure what's next. But if he runs again here it will be in the Pat O'Brien."
On Sunday at Saratoga, Shancelot took the early lead in the $200,000 Grade II Amsterdam for 3-year-olds, extended the advantage and then extended it again, eventually rolling home first by 12 1/2 lengths. Nitrous was best of the rest, finishing 1 3/4 lengths to the good of Honest Mischief. Shancelot, a Shanghai Bobby colt, ran 6 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:14.01 with Emisael Jaramillo riding for trainer Jorge Navarro.
Shancelot now is 3-for-3 with earlier wins at Gulfstream Park in February and Monmouth Park in June and Navarro, who has had some very good ones, is excited and pointing to the $500,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens on Travers day.
"Wow. To say what I said a month ago, that this is the best horse I've ever trained... You know, Private Zone was good. Sharp Azteca was good. X Y Jet is still good. Going into the race, I knew he was running against some good horses. I thought, 'Am I going to be wrong?' I guess not," Navarro said.
"The jockey jumped off and said, 'Jorge, this was just a workout.' He said, 'I had so much in the bottom.' I've never seen anything like it in my life."
On Sunday at Woodbine, Olympic Runner rallied from last of four to win the $120,000 (Canadian) King Corrie Stakes for 3-year-olds by 2 1/2 lengths. Souper Success was along for second. The favorite, Big Drink of Water, faded from the lead to finish third in his first start since Breeders' Cup week at Churchill Downs so watch for him to run back. Corduroy Road completed the order of finish. Olympic Runner, a Gio Ponti gelding, got 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.66 under Patrick Husbands, notching his second straight win.
Channel Maker was the solid favorite but Channel Cat was the gate-to-wire winner in Saturday's $250,000 Grade II Bowling Green Stakes at Saratoga. Luis Saez took Channel Cat, a 4-year-old English Channel colt, out to an easy lead, shook off a challenge midway through the 1 3/8 miles and held of Chilean-bred, first-time U.S. starter Ya Primo by 1/2 length. Arklow was a head further back in third and a neck in front of Channel Maker, a 5-year-old English Channel gelding. Channel Cat, a Calumet Farm homebred trained by Todd Pletcher, finished in 2:14.43, winning for just the sixth time in his 26th start.
Pletcher said he thinks Calumet's Brad Kelley "would be delighted" to have Channel Cat in the $850,000 Grade I Sword Dancer Aug. 24 at the Spa. "So, hopefully, things go well between now and then. I think he's like a lot of English Channels -- he continues to improve as he gets older and doesn't mind a little cut in the ground. He showed today that he has a versatile running style, so we feel that there's still more to come."
At Woodbine, Tiz a Slam slammed the pedal to the metal at the start of Sunday's $200,000 (Canadian) Grade II Nijinsky Stakes, led throughout the 1 1/2 miles and won easily, 4 1/4 lengths to the good of runner-up Sir Sahib. Pumpkin Rumble was 1 1/4 lengths farther back in third. Tiz a Slam, a 5-year-old son of Tiznow, got home in course-record time of 2:24.45 with Steven Bahen riding for trainer Rober Attfield. The record is provisional pending review of hand timing.
Tiz a Slam won the Nijinsky in 2018, hit a dry spell and now has run off consecutive wins in the Grade III Louisville Stakes at Churchill Downs, the Grade II Singspiel at Woodbine and Sunday's race.
"He was a big, big horse just taking a long time to actually reach total maturity, which he has now," Attfield said. "We've looked after him really well and he's sound and, like I say, when they reach full maturity and they're sound and they're happy, they're only going to give you their best and that's what he's doing for us."
Attfield said the Grade I Northern Dancer on Nov. 14 at Woodbine is the target for Tiz a Slam.
Friday's $150,000 California Dreamin' Stakes at Del Mar was restricted to state-breds but since the Breeders' Cup World Championship are in California this year, it's worth noting that Grecian Fire rallied from well back to win the 1 1/16-miles event by 1 length under Mike Smith. The Street Fighter was second, 1/2 length in front of the early leader, What a View.
Grecian Fire, a 5-year-old Unusual Heat gelding, got home in a very quick 1:39.85, just 0.35 second off the course record. The useful type was second in this last year but in May jumped up to win the Grade III All American Stakes on the Golden Gate Fields all-weather course.
Saturday's $75,000 Frisk Me Now Stakes at Monmouth Park was 1 mile and restricted to 3-year-olds. Still, based on a nice performance, stellar breeding and top ownership, Tracksmith is worthy of longer look. The Street Sense colt, out of the Medaglia d'Oro mare Hot Water, rallied from last to win the Frisk Me Now by 1/2 length, reeling in a game War Treaty in the late going. Credit Swap finished third, another 1 1/2 lengths back. With Adam Beschizza up for trainer Joe Sharp and owner Calumet Farm, Tracksmith finished in 1:35.20 over firm going. He was second in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last fall, struggled in graded stakes but now is 2-for-2 this year.
And on Sunday at Monmouth, it was 3-year-old fillies tackling 1 mile on the grass and Tasting the Stars tasting victory. The Bodemeister filly waited behind a speedy pair, came by in the lane and triumphed by 1 3/4 lengths. Sweet Sami D was along for second, 1/2 length in front of pacesetter Souper Escape. Tasting the Stars, with Nik Juarez in the irons, finished in 1:34.76. She was coming off a prolonged break after going 2-for-2 at Fair Grounds and remains undefeated.
Ollie's Candy led the field into the stretch in Sunday's $300,000 Grade I Clement L. Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar, gave up the lead to the favorite, Secret Spice, then found another gear and went by to win by a head over that rival. Speaking of rivals, frequent foes La Force and Paradise Woods finished third and fourth in the Hirsch. Ollie's Candy, a 4-year-old Candy Ride filly, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track, earning a "Win and You're In" spot in the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff.
Ollie's Candy had not won since taking the Grade II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita a year ago June and entered Sunday's fray off a runner-up showing in the Grade III Wilshire Stakes at Santa Anita. Since the last win, which came on the dirt, she had been toiling on the turf.
"She ran a good race her last start at Santa Anita, came down here and had a bullet work over the track, which showed me she had an affinity for the dirt," said winning trainer John Sadler. "A lot of Candy Rides can run on any surface."
One to watch: Dennis' Moment, a Tiznow colt campaigned by trainer Dale Romans, got away to a 19 1/4-lengths victory in the seventh race at Ellis Park on Saturday, defeating some well-bred rivals in the process. "He just galloped today," said jockey Miguel Mena. "I think he's the real deal." It was the second start for Dennis' Moment, who clipped heels in the first encounter, unseating his rider. Romans flew in to Ellis Park from Saratoga to watch the race and commented, "He's the total package. He's been very smart. I mean, he was an expensive yearling. So he has the pedigree, the looks. His intelligence is off the charts and just pure natural talent ... This was a very tough race. There'll be more than one stakes horse come out of this group."
On Friday at Prairie Meadows, Richard Ronald and Kentucky invader Bubba Bling raced as a team throughout the 6 furlongs of the $65,000 Prairie Gold Juvenile with Richard Richard gamely prevailing by a head. Crimson Zip was 3 3/4 lengths back in third. Richard Ronald, a Louisiana-bred Misremembered colt, reported in 1:11.28 with Leandro Goncalves riding. He now is 2-for-2 with the first win coming at Canterbury Park.
At Woodbine, Owlette led the field through Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Shady Well Stakes for Ontario-bred 2-year-old fillies and persevered, winning by 1/2 length. Take Charge Eh was second, 1/2 length better than Curlin's Voyage. Owlette, a Frac Daddy filly, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:04.42 with Patrick Husbands riding.
Flat Out Speed lived up to her name in Friday's $65,000 Prairie Gold Lassie at Prairie Meadows, leading all the way to a 3 1/4-lengths win. She's All Wolfe finished next, 6 3/4 lengths in front of Rumpleminx. Flat Out Speed, an Iowa-bred miss by Flat Out, finished in 1:10.73 with Alex Canchari up. She's 2-for-2, both wins at the Iowa oval.
Around the ovals:
Lieutenant Dan stalked the pace in Saturday's $150,000 Real Good Deal Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds, passed the leader when cued by jockey Drayden Van Dyke and drew off to a 3-lengths score. Oliver was along for second at a big price, edging odds-on favorite, Cruel Intention. Lieutenant Dan, a Grazen gelding, ran 7 furlongs on a fast track in 1:23.67.
Dabo closed smartly through the stretch to win Saturday's $75,000 Springfield Stakes for Illinois-bred 3-year-olds by 5 1/4 lengths, going away. Another Mystery came from last to finish second, 10 lengths in front of D'fever. It was another 31 1/4 lengths to Tak, who completed the order of finish. Dabo, a Temple City gelding, ran 1 mile on the all-weather track in 1:36.72 with Jose Valdivia Jr. up.
W W Fitzy tracked the early pace in Saturday's $75,000 Sharon N. Kirby Memorial for 3-year-old, Illinois-bred fillies, then took command in the lane, drawing off to win by 7 1/2 lengths. Sister Ruler was second, 4 1/4 lengths ahead of Stopshoppingamy. W W Fitzy, a Well Positioned filly ran 1 mile on the all-weather surface in 1:37.34 with Chris Emigh in the kip.
Blazing Navarone blazed quickly to the lead in Sunday's $50,000 Land of Enchantment Handicap for New Mexico-breds and held on at the end, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Go For a Stroll. Blazing Navarone, a 4-year-old gelding by Song of Navarone, ran 7 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:32.22 with Enrique Gomez riding.
My Boanerges pressed the pace in Sunday's $50,000 Road Runner Handicap for state-bred 3-year-olds, took command in the lane and went on to win by 5 3/4 lengths. No Pasa Nada was best of the rest. My Boanerges, a Diabolical gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.20 for jockey Jansen Melancon.
Fast Gator overcame a stumbling start to win Sunday's $50,000 Lincoln Handicap for New Mexico-bred fillies and mares by 1/2 length from Ballinouttacontrol. Fast Gator, a 4-year-old Diabolical filly, completed 6 furlongs in 1:12.52 with Miguel Fuentes Jr. in the irons.
Mr. Mooch set a pressured pace in Saturday's $50,000 Sierra Blanca Handicap for New Mexico-breds, then inched clear in the final yards to win by 1 length over D E Lover. Mr. Mooch, a 5-year-old gelding by Tin Can Sailor, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a fast track in 1:04.19 with Casey Chavez up.
Fight Song conceded the early lead in Saturday's $50,000 Sierra Starlet Handicap for 3-year-old, New Mexico-bred fillies, made steady progress and was up in time to win by a neck over Let It Roll. Fight Song, a daughter of Attila's Storm, covered 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.41 for jockey Alfredo Juarez Jr.
Maskwecis caught pacesetting Pearl of Knowledge in the late going of Sunday's $60,000 (Canadian) City of Leduc Stakes for 2-year-olds and got clear to a 1 3/4-lengths victory. Big Al's finish was third. Maskwecis, a Jimmy Creed gelding, ran 5 1/2 furlongs on a good track in 1:05.11 with Anastasios Charlaris in the irons. The favorite, Shanghai Mike, finished fifth.