After a seven-week break for the crop of top 3-year-olds, this weekend’s action at Saratoga Springs and Monmouth will help determine which horses are the leaders in the race for the Eclipse Award.
The Jim Dandy is a race named for a horse which registered a 100-1 upset in the 1930 Travers Stakes. This – along with some similar results – has led to Saratoga being called “The Graveyard of Favorites.”
Dogwood’s president, Cot Campbell, hopes the moniker will not hold true today as Palace Malice was listed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite after drawing the fifth post position.
The opposition is led by Mylute, fifth in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Preakness and still in contention for season’s end laurels despite no victories this year. Trainer Bob Baffert will have Code West in the Jim Dandy seeking his third consecutive victory and D. Wayne Lukas will tighten the girth on the enigmatic Will Take Charge, a disappointing 10th in the Belmont in his last effort.
On Sunday, Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow will square off with Todd Pletcher-trainee Verrazano in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. Oxbow followed his Preakness win with a runner-up finish in the Belmont and is certainly in contention for divisional leadership. Verrazano, a disappointing 14th in the Kentucky Derby, rebounded with an easy triumph in the Pegasus Stakes over the Monmouth course, although his task was facilitated by the breakdown of his principal opponent, Itsmyluckyday.
Golden Soul, ninth in the Belmont after finishing second at Churchill Downs, will also be seeking to reclaim a spot among the divisional leaders at Monmouth.
Having brought joy to many at just under 14-1 odds in the Belmont, perhaps all the Dogwood colt needs for success is a clean trip. Tormented by traffic problems in his two races in Louisiana this spring and his own worst enemy in the Blue Grass Stakes and in the Kentucky Derby when blinkers sharpened him to the point he refused to rate, Palace Malice finally got everything in order at Belmont and galloped home a winner.
Longshots Moreno and Freedom Child appear to be the speed in the Jim Dandy and Palace Malice should be able to sit right off the pace in a stalking position until jockey Mike Smith gives him the signal. From that point, he should be the one to catch.
“He’s doing terrific,” Campbell said. “Really, he couldn’t be doing any better. We’re optimistic that he’ll run well.”
Despite the fact that the Haskell winner will receive $240,000 more than the winner of the Jim Dandy, Campbell feels comfortable staying at the Spa and giving his colt a race over the track on which the Travers will be run four weeks later, where Derby winner Orb is expected to join the fray.
“This is where he lives,” Campbell said. “We’re Saratoga people and there’s no point going out of town to tangle with Verrazano and Oxbow.”
This strategy certainly suits Pletcher, who has an excellent shot at a huge parlay with Palace Malice and Verrazano.
Campbell agrees that the 3-year-old championship is wide open at this stage. Asked whether he believes that victories by Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy and Travers would cement the colt at the top of his division, Campbell said, “I certainly think so.”
Then he paused for emphasis.
“But he has to win them,” Campbell said.