Thoroughbred racing’s three-year-old division provides a marquee one-two punch this weekend with the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on Saturday and the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on Sunday.
What the Jim Dandy lacks in quantity -- just five horses will go to the post -- it makes up for in quality, especially on the top end. In fact, it’s a showdown/throwdown with Kentucky Derby champion Always Dreaming facing Preakness winner Cloud Computing for the big check in the $600,000 purse.
This is considered a prep race for the Grade 1 Travers Stakes on Aug. 26 at Saratoga.
Here’s a look at the five-horse field:
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Always Dreaming: Trainer Todd Pletcher has afforded the 143rd Kentucky Derby champion a long layoff since Always Dreaming finished a disappointing eighth in the Preakness. Thus the two-time Grade 1 winner -- Always Dreaming ran away with the Grade 1 Florida Derby before shipping to Louisville -- should be a fresh horse at Saratoga. He worked an easy five furlongs in a 1:01.71 last Saturday on Saratoga’s Oklahoma Training Track.
Always Dreaming finished second as a two-year-old in his only previous race at Saratoga, although that was before the horse was given to Pletcher, who has won the Jim Dandy six times. He’ll break from the No. 1 hole on Saturday in search of answers after his May face in Baltimore snapped a four-race win streak. Was the Preakness a fluke or the sign of things to come?
Todd Pletcher’s Jim Dandy wins: Palace Malice in 2013; Stay Thirsty in 20011; Flower Alley in 2005; Purge in 2004; Strong Hope in 2003; Graeme Hall in 2000.
Cloud Computing: Reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown notched his first Triple Crown win when Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence’s lightly raced star took the Preakness. It was just Cloud Computing’s second win, but he’s clearly improving after a second-place finish in the Gotham and a third in the Wood Memorial. He skipped the Kentucky Derby and has not run since May 20.
Brown worked the horse four furlongs in :49.09 last Saturday. He’ll break from the No. 2 hole and will have Javier Castellano aboard again. Can he beat Always Dreaming in back-to-back races?
Giuseppe the Great: Trainer Nick Zito brought the son of Lookin At Lucky to Saratoga after a fourth-place finish in the Grade 3 Dwyer, won by the Chad Brown-trained Practical Joke. Guiseppe broke his maiden at Keeneland on April 8, then ran on Belmont Day, just not in the Belmont. Instead, he finished second to American Anthem in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens. Saturday will be his first race covering two turns.
Pavel: Trainer Doug O’Neill admits he’s taking a (long) shot by shipping the son of Creative Cause from California to New York. Pavel has raced just once, winning a Maiden Special Weight at Santa Anita on July 1. “We are definitely going into deep waters,” said O’Neill on Tuesday’s NTRA teleconference.
Good Samaritan: WinStar racing CEO Elliott Walden wanted to see how the son of Harlan’s Holiday would fare on dirt, and trainer Bill Mott went along with the program. All of Good Samaritan’s previous six races were on turf. He ran fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational, won by Oscar Performance on July 8. In fact, Good Samaritan hasn’t won a race since taking the Grade 2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine last September.
One positive note: Mott turns 64 on Saturday. A Jim Dandy win would be very much a birthday surprise.
My pick: Pletcher is always more comfortable when he can give his horses time to recharge between the races. That formula gets Always Dreaming back on track.
Fox Sports 2 has Saturday’s television coverage from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Jim Dandy post positions
Giuseppe the Great