With Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another and Belmont winner Union Rags out of the picture, a field of eight will head to the gate on Saturday at Saratoga in the $600,000 Jim Dandy (G2) looking to move up the ladder in the three-year-old division.
The 11-race card at the Spa gets underway at 1:00 ET. In addition to the Jim Dandy, a field of six fillies and mares will go 1 1/8 miles on the inner turf in the $600,000 Diana (G1).
The Jim Dandy drew a field of eight led by Count Fleet and Withers (G3) winner Alpha, Matt Winn (G3) winner Neck ‘n Neck, and Dwyer (G2) winner Teeth of the Dog.
The field is deep, with Liaison shipping in from the west coast for Bob Baffert off a runner up finish in the Swaps (G2), and Prospective is coming off a victory in the Ohio Derby (G3) in his last outing.
Completing the wide open field are Dwyer runner up Fast Falcon, Belmont third place finisher Atigun, and Long Branch winner My Adonis.
The race serves as a key prep for the marquee event of the summer, the $1 million Travers (G1) on Aug. 25.
Wood Memorial (G1) Gemologist may have been the favorite in the Jim Dandy, but trainer Todd Pletcher elected to send the colt to the Jersey Shore where he is the 3-1 co-second choice in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park.
The Haskell drew a compact field of six, which includes Kentucky Derby (G3) third place finisher Dullahan and Belmont (G1) runner up Paynter, who is the 3-2 morning line favorite.
There are six stakes on Haskell Day on Sunday and I will include the stakes action in my Best Plays Report tomorrow.
The Diana today at the Spa drew six including defending champion Zagora, who will be saddled by Chad Brown.
Tapitsfly is coming off a gate to wire score as our top pick in the Just a Game (G1) and will likely try that same strategy in the Diana, although the mare will have to get an extra furlong.
Winter Memories is the 9-5 morning line favorite and is looking to rebound off a runner up finish in the Just a Game. The filly has won 7 of her 11 career starts and has never lost two races in a row.
She won the Lake George (G2) over the Spa turf here last summer.
Completing the Diana field is Distaff Turf Mile (G2) winner Hungry Island, who was third in the Just a Game, and overseas invaders Dream Peace and Law of the Range.
The turf was labeled yielding on Friday and the main track was sloppy. There is a 60% chance we are going to see a few thunderstorms on Saturday.
Michael Dempsey provides his selections for Saratoga each racing day. Mike’s Best Plays Report is available each weekend, with his strongest plays and selections including the top stakes races.
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Let’s head out to Saratoga for Saturday’s featured race of the day:
Saratoga Race 10 The Jim Dandy G2 (Post time 5:45 ET)
4 Neck ‘n Neck 3-1
1 Alpha 5-2
7 Liaison 7-2
6 Teeth of the Dog 5-1
Analysis: Neck ‘n Neck came up short on the Derby Trail, a longshot in the Fountain of Youth (G2) and Florida Derby (G1) where the colt checked in fourth and fifth. The Ian Wilkes barn dropped him into an Alw-1 race at Churchill Downs two back and he ran big, winning by 6 1/2 lengths and earning a career top speed fig. The third, fourth, and sixth place finishers in the race all came back to win next out. Then it was back to stakes company where the colt was a good looking winner of the Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs, again earning a career top speed fig. The colt sports a couple of quick drills over the Spa main track and he is bred to handle nine furlongs. He is 0 for 2 on a wet track but those outings came early in his career.
Alpha was my early Derby pick after he won the Count Fleet and Withers (G3) and he missed winning the Wood Memorial (G1) by just a neck. He was off awkwardly in the Derby and was not a threat in a 12th place finish. He spiked a fever causing him to miss the Belmont (G1) and he shows up here with a couple of bullet works on the morning tab. The Kiaran McLaughlin barn is 27% winners (with a +ROI) with horses coming back off a 61-180 day layoff. He is reunited with Ramon Dominguez who was aboard for his two stakes wins earlier this year.
Liaison is coming off a couple of good efforts on the fake stuff at Hollywood Park, finishing second in the Swaps (G2) last out which produced a career top speed fig. The Bob Baffert trainee is 0 for 6 this year, his last win coming as a juvenile taking the CashCall Futurity (G1). The main question mark is whether or not he sees some pace in front of him here, and he does seem to do his best work on the fake stuff.
WIN: No.4 to win at 5-2 or better.
EX: 1,4 / 1,4,6,7
TRI: 1,4 / 1,4,6,7 / 1,3,4,6,7