Saratoga Springs

3-year-old colts, minus Justify, back in spotlight

Hofburg wins Curlin; Jim Dandy, Haskell Invitational also on tap
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. gives the thumbs up after Hofburg rolled home by five lengths the Curlin Stakes.
Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. gives the thumbs up after Hofburg rolled home by five lengths the Curlin Stakes.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — When it comes to the 3-year-old male division, this weekend has a feel to it like the wreckage of a sunken ship washing ashore.

The captain, Justify, went down with the ship, as he was retired on Wednesday after just six career starts, three of which made him the 13th Triple Crown winner in history.

What’s left is a hodgepodge of survivors from the Triple Crown storm and some others who are trying to make some sort of name for themselves in a division whose championship was decided on June 9, when Justify won the Belmont Stakes.

The featured stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday is the Grade II Jim Dandy, which drew just five entries, including Reride, who scratched out of Friday’s Curlin, leaving that race with just five entries.

On Sunday, Monmouth Park will host the Grade I, $1 million Haskell Invitational, where the 2017 Eclipse Award-winning Good Magic is the 6-5 morning-line favorite off a second in the Kentucky Derby and a fourth in the Belmont.

Looking for a soft spot for his colt, trainer Bill Mott sent Hofburg to the Curlin to give his colt a chance to find the winner’s circle for the first time since he broke his maiden in March. He did so in dominating fashion as the 1-5 betting favorite, by five lengths over the lightly raced Nicodemus, who was making just his third career start.

Now the Hofburg camp will look forward to the Travers with a horse who has taken his lumps against the stiffest competition, but has momentum moving forward.

“We’ve thrown him to the wolves the last three times,” Mott said. “He’s coming out of three Grade I races, and we haven’t won any of them, so we wanted to do whatever we could to give the horse a chance to win a race. Let him make the lead in the stretch, finish up a winner, and I think that helps his confidence.

“He’s held up well to the challenges we’ve given him. I don’t have any regrets on trying the races we tried. We have the opportunity to get better.”

Hofburg was a respectable seventh in the Kentucky Derby and was third in the Belmont.

On Friday, he was raring to go in the paddock, at one point pinning Mott to the side of his saddling stall for a moment. As bossy as he was there, he was the boss on the track, too, running a the back of the field on the backstretch under Irad Ortiz Jr. and gobbling up the competition on the grandstand turn.

“He was a little hot and a little agitated,” Mott said. “Frankly, I was a little bit concerned, but mainly he just needed to run. He’s a little bit fresh right now and wanted to get moving forward, and hopefully when we run back in the Travers, he’ll be a little more collected. He was a little pushy.”

Many of these horses running this weekend will form the field for the Aug. 25 Travers at Saratoga, along with Good Magic’s stablemate, Belmont runner-up Gronkowski, who was meant for the Jim Dandy but will train up to the Travers because of a minor setback in training.

Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso is the even-money favorite in the Jim Dandy after finishing ninth in the Derby and fourth in the Belmont. John Velazquez has been aboard for all seven of his career starts.

“I think if we’d have ridden him to be second [in the Belmont] we might’ve been second,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “Johnny made a decision at the half-mile pole with Justify having a pretty decent way of things up front. He looked to try and put some pressure on him, and I think because of that it kind of cost him a little bit in the end. Certainly, that’s the way we would have done it if we had to do it all over again.

“He’s still a lightly raced horse, so we’re hoping for a good late summer and fall.”

Sporting Chance returns to the site of his best race, a victory in last year’s Hopeful.

He hasn’t started since a sixth in the Preakness.

“This one has got some quirks about him,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “If he shows up with his best race — and I think he likes this racetrack — he shows up, he’ll be very tough, but he’s got to bring his ‘A’ game.”

Tenfold is 8-5 after finishing third in the Preakness and fifth in the Belmont, and Flameaway, 13th in the Kentucky Derby and sixth to Core Beliefs in the Ohio Derby, rounds out the Jim Dandy field.

“I gave him a lot of time off after the Derby because the Derby was hard on everybody,” trainer Mark Casse said of Flameaway. “I think I probably gave him a little too much time, but Flameaway is Flameaway now. Whether he’s good enough I don’t know, but he’s as good as he can get right now.”

Like many of the colts in this division, Good Magic was given a breather after the Triple Crown series, but trainer Chad Brown said he expects Good Magic to respond well to the time off when he goes to the post in the Haskell.

“He definitely had those two tough races back-to-back and we gave him a little time off. He needed that to recharge his batteries,” he said. “We had the Haskell in mind for him right after the Preakness and he’s been training very well for it. Running off a layoff doesn’t bother him.”

Core Beliefs, who was third behind Justify and Bolt d’Oro in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, appears to be gaining a little steam, albeit against lesser company, with a second in the Peter Pan and his Ohio Derby victory.

The Haskell field also includes the Lukas-trained Bravazo, who is the only horse besides Justify to run in all three Triple Crown races.

He was sixth in the Derby, second in the Preakness and sixth in the Belmont.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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