The widest open of this weekend’s big races for 3-year-olds is Saturday’s $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. The 49th renewal has attracted several graded stakes winners, but the top two sophomores are headed to Monmouth on Sunday for the 45th running of the $1 million Haskell Invitational.
The Jim Dandy will be loaded with an abundance of front runners that include Teeth of the dog, Grade 2 Dwyer winner at Belmont; Fast Falcon, Dwyer runner-up; and Neck ’n Neck, Grade 3 Matt Winn victor at Churchill Downs.
Two other speedsters are on the fence and may run in the Haskell: Grade 3 Ohio Derby winner Prospective and Wood victor Gemologist. Both stakes are 1 1/8 miles.
Alpha, who won the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct and finished second in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, has been targeting the Jim Dandy since missing the Belmont Stakes because of a fever. He hasn’t raced since finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby.
The son of 2006 Preakness champ Bernardini, who captured the Jim Dandy and the Travers, breezed four furlongs in 48 2/5 on Saturday at Saratoga. That’s where he debuted back on Sept. 3, 2011, with a six-length triumph going seven furlongs.
“His ears were pricked and he was happy so we’re happy,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin told brisnet.com. “He’s doing very well.”
Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter is the sophomore to beat in the Haskell. The son of Awesome Again recorded his fourth straight bullet workout on Monday, covering six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 at Del Mar.
The Bob Baffert trainee, who worked with stablemate Liaison, turned in the fastest of nine works on the Polytrack. Liaison, who is headed to the Jim Dandy, clocked the second-best time of 1:12 2/5.
Neck ’n Neck had an eventful workout at Saratoga on Monday, with two horses breaking from the gate and coming up behind the son of Flower Alley and another horse serving as an unintentional target as he came down the stretch.
With jockey Julien Leparoux aboard, Neck ’n Neck finished the five furlongs in 59 3/5, fourth-fastest of 39 works at the distance.
“He did it nice and easy,” trainer Ian Wilkes told Bristnet.com. “It was a good education. He’s growing up, that’s the biggest thing. “He’s doing things more professionally. He’s more of a racehorse now, not the big kid that wanted to play around.”
Another Jim Dandy contender is Atigun, third in the Belmont. The son of Istan posted a bullet 1:00 4/5 breezing five furlongs on Saturday at Saratoga.
Paynter’s chief foe in the Haskell is Dullahan, third in the Kentucky Derby and seventh in the Belmont. The Dale Romans trainee recorded a bullet for his fourth workout in July at Churchill Downs, breezing five furlongs in 59 4/5, fastest of 15 works on Saturday.
In the Jim Dandy, Alpha looks like the 3-year-old to beat. He has been working well at Saratoga, posting a bullet 58 4/5 for five furlongs on July 14, the fastest of 23 works at the distance. His running style of staying close to the pace and accelerating in the stretch should bring him victory off a fast pace. Neck ’n Neck, Atigun and Gemologist, if he goes, can hit the board.
In the Haskell, Paynter should hold off Dullahan, with the third spot up for grabs unless Gemologist runs.