Wide-open Jim Dandy field eyes 3-year-old springboard

The 3-year-old colt division has taken some severe hits to the star quality department this summer.<

The 3-year-old colt division has taken some severe hits to the star quality department this summer.

That leaves a lot of necks craning to get a head above what’s left in today’s Grade II Jim Dandy at Sar­atoga Race Course, the traditional Travers prep.

Alpha, the 5-2 morning-line fav­orite, lost the Wood Memorial by a neck to Gemologist.

Teeth of the Dog was a neck better than Fast Falcon in the Dwyer at Belmont Park on June 30.

Heck, there’s even a horse named Neck ‘n Neck in here, and the Ian Wilkes trainee has as good a shot as anybody after having won his last two starts by a combined 13 3⁄4 lengths at Churchill Downs.

“You could handicap the whole field, and you can’t throw one of the eight out,” Wilkes said on Friday morning. “Every one has got a shot. It’s a very good race from top to bottom. You can’t put someone at the bottom and someone at the top. It’s a very even bunch of horses, and it’s going to be a very good race.”

“With I’ll Have Another, Bod­emeister and Union Rags not being around, that leaves the door open for one of them,” trainer Michael Matz said. “There’s not one horse that’s a standout going into the race.”

Matz trained Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, who suffered a tendon injury after the race and was retired. He also trains Teeth of the Dog.

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another was retired the day before the Belmont, and Bodemeister, the Derby and Preakness runner-up trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, was headed to the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Sunday, but came down with a fever and will miss the race.

He was replaced in the Haskell field by stablemate Paynter, the Belmont runner-up, and Baffert has sent Liaison to the Jim Dandy.

Of the eight Jim Dandy starters, only Neck ‘n Neck and Fast Falcon did not start in at least one of the Triple Crown races.

Still, Neck ‘n Neck is the 3-1 second choice, off his impressive win in the Grade III Matt Winn over Stealcase, who is running in the Haskell.

“He hasn’t missed a beat up here, and I think he belongs with these horses,” Wilkes said.

Neck ‘n Neck, a son of 2005 Travers winner Flower Alley, as is I’ll Have Another, shipped to Saratoga from Kentucky two weeks ago.

He had a bit of an adventure during his Monday five-furlong breeze on the main track that turned into a race-like scenario that Wilkes said “I couldn’t have planned any better if was trying to do it.”

With Julien Leparoux in the saddle (regular rider Leandro Goncalves will fly in for the Jim Dandy), Neck ‘n Neck broke at the pole just as two horses broke from the gate behind him.

When he got in the stretch, there was another worker close enough in front of him who served as a target.

“You’ve got to be able to overcome a little adversity,” Wilkes said. “A couple horses came out of the gate behind him, and that chased him along a little bit early. He took a breather, then there was a horse down the lane that he saw and he wanted to go and get.

“It made him work a little quicker than I was looking for, but that’s OK. He ate up that night, he hasn’t left an oat since, so he took no harm from it. I wanted a nice work, it was a 59, but that’s getting picky.”

Neck ‘n Neck made the rounds of the Derby preps in Florida, but did not finish better than fourth in the Sam Davis, Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby.

He won and allowance impressively at Churchill, then put himself back in the picture in the division by running away with the Matt Winn.

Alpha will break from the rail in his first start since finishing 12th in the Derby.

The other Derby runners in the Jim Dandy are Liaison (sixth) and Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective (18th).

Prospective has won the Victoria Park at Woodbine and the Ohio Derby at Thistledown in his last two starts for Canada-based trainer Mark Casse.

Liaison hasn’t won in six starts as a 3-year-old, but Baffert deemed him ready for the Jim Dandy based on how well he breezed last time, in 1:122⁄5 at Del Mar on Monday.

Teeth of the Dog was fifth in the Preakness, and the late-closing Atigun and My Adonis were third and eighth, respectively, in the Belmont.

“I think it’s a pretty open race,” Matz said. “It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of pace in there, so I imagine he’d [Teeth of the Dog] be pretty close to the pace. He’s won on the lead and off it, so there’s a lot of things you can do with it.

“He’s just a great dispositioned horse with a big heart, and sometimes that can take you farther than one that has a lot of ability, and you don’t know how to get it out.”

Fast Falcon, a son of Awesome Again trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito, has finished second to Teeth of the Dog in his last two starts, the Dwyer and the Easy Goer on Belmont Stakes day.

“I ran him on Belmont Stakes day to see what I had,” Zito said. “Boy, did he come with a great run that day. In his next start, he got closer to Teeth of the Dog again, and here we are again. Hopefully, he can do the same thing, hang around these horses and keep moving up. It’s an extra sixteenth of a mile, and he certainly has everything going for him, distance-wise.”

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