Of the seven horses entered in the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga, Brilliant Speed is the only one whose résumé shows a win against Grade I competition.
His victory in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland will always jump off the page in bold type. But like most of his 3-year-old classmates, Brilliant Speed still finds himself needing to prove he's as good as the company he keeps.
The first half of this weekend's two-part quest to try to sort out the division takes place Saturday with an eclectic bunch going to post in the $500,000, 11⁄8-mile Jim Dandy.
As will be the case in Sunday's Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, validation will be the goal for a handful of well-regarded 3-year-olds in the Jim Dandy.
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Count Brilliant Speed in that category. The son of Dynaformer upset the field in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes in April to put himself in the Kentucky Derby where he finished a respectable seventh, beaten 51/2 lengths by winner Animal Kingdom.
Brilliant Speed came back to run a solid third in the Belmont Stakes, but the dark bay colt has yet to win over a dirt surface. Live Oak Plantation's homebred finished off the board in his first two starts on dirt last season, including a seventh-place finish in a 7-furlong race at Saratoga.
To that end, if the Grade I Travers on Aug. 27 is to remain on Brilliant Speed's agenda, he needs to show he can handle Saratoga's sometimes tricky main track.
"He ran well in the Derby, he seemed to handle that surface fine," trainer Tom Albertrani said. "He ran well at Belmont in the slop so now we go to another track, a different type of surface. I think that could be behind us. I think just his first two races ... was more immaturity.
"Once he really started going two turns, that was the real key. You look back at this horse's races and he's getting better with every race. If he keeps improving, I think the Jim Dandy and Travers could certainly be within his reach."
The fact Brilliant Speed is the 7-2 co-third choice in the morning line speaks to the wide-open nature of the Jim Dandy field.
Mike Repole's Stay Thirsty is the 5-2 morning-line favorite coming off his runner-up effort behind Ruler On Ice in the Belmont Stakes last month.
In addition to being in the shadow of his champion stablemate Uncle Mo, Stay Thirsty has been inconsistent this season. The son of Bernardini defeated eventual Grade I Wood Memorial winner Toby's Corner in the Grade III Gotham Stakes in March, but he was a non-factor in both the Grade I Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, beaten a combined 28 lengths.
But Stay Thirsty has shined in the state of New York. The well-built colt broke his maiden at Saratoga last year, and he has never been worse than second in five starts at NYRA tracks.
"I thought he justified what we thought of him in the Belmont, although we were disappointed at the end," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "Nonetheless, it was a good effort and he's trained well since then. He's always been a straightforward kind of horse and physically we've noticed some development even since the Gotham."
Dominus, trained by Steve Asmussen, won the Grade II Dwyer at Belmont Park on July 2 and is one of three Jim Dandy entrants — along with Alternation and Scotus — that come into the race off graded-stakes victories.
Dominus' front-running, 13/4-length score in the Dwyer was his second in four starts, and he is likely to be the main speed again Saturday. The son of Smart Strike is stepping up to the 11⁄8-mile distance for the first time, unlike Alternation who is coming off a win in the Grade II Peter Pan going 11⁄8 miles on May 14.
"We backed off after the Peter Pan and let him relax for a couple of weeks," said Donnie Von Hemel, trainer of Alternation. "We then got back in business and put in some in company works and some longer distances just to make sure we had everything ready to go."