Saratoga Springs, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - Wicked Strong, ridden by Rajiv Maragh, went past favored Tonalist and won Saturday's $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in advance of next month's $1 million Travers.
Trained by Jimmy Jerkens for Centennial Farms, Wicked Strong was sent off as the 2-1 second pick in the field of six 3-year-olds. Belmont Stakes champ Tonalist was the 9-10 favorite with Kid Cruz at 5-1.
Wicked Strong broke sharply from the gate and proceeded to press from the outside the pace being set by Legend. Tonalist was sitting off the pace up the backstretch in the 1 1/8-mile stakes.
Around the final turn, Wicked Strong drew even with Legend as Tonalist ranged into contention from the middle of the track. Wicked Strong had the lead at the top of the stretch with Tonalist to his outside.
Maragh shook his mount up to draw away from Tonalist down the stretch and post a 2 1/4-length victory over the favorite. Kid Cruz rallied to finish third followed by Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, Ulanbator and Legend. Cousin Stephen was a scratch.
"This is great. This is really great," said Jerkens. "The way he works, I don't think Secretariat worked any better than this horse does in the morning. I know the talent's there. It's just getting him to put it all together.
"It was a different dimension today where he was up close to the pace, and he didn't get by (Legend) too easy. He had to run to get the best of him, and then Tonalist was right there. I think he showed a lot of class today."
The time for the Jim Dandy on a fast track was 1:49.16.
Wicked Strong, wearing blinkers for the first time, pocketed $360,000 in his Saratoga debut and became a millionaire in the process. The colt has won three of nine career starts for $1,244,610.
"It might be my imagination but he always seemed to be running with his head cocked to the outside in his other races," said Jerkens. "I didn't really notice that today. I thought he ran straight and true."
The 3-year-old began his season with a disappointing ninth-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park. After a fourth in an optional allowance race, he won the Wood Memorial at 9-1 odds.
Wicked Strong overcame some problems in the Kentucky Derby to finish fourth and again finished fourth, in a dead heat with California Chrome, in the Belmont Stakes.
The 1 1/4-mile Travers, the "Mid-Summer Derby," will be run on Saturday, Aug. 23.
Wicked Strong paid $6.40, $3.10 and $2.40. Tonalist returned $2.50 and $2.10, and Kid Cruz paid $2.50 to show.