SARATOGA SPRINGS — Coming out of a third-place finish in the Peter Pan Stakes on opening day at Saratoga Race Course, trainer Michael Stidham and jockey Jose Ortiz agreed that what Mystic Guide needed was a little more focus.
“I talked to Mike right after the race,” Ortiz said, “and we couldn’t agree more on putting blinkers on him.”
With blinkers on for Saturday’s Grade II, $150,000 Jim Dandy at the Spa, the results weren’t exactly what Ortiz and Stidham expected — rather than flashing a little more early speed as Ortiz had thought, Mystic Guide still sat last in the six-horse field early on — but the end product justified the move.
This time around, Mystic Guide was sharp and ready when Ortiz made the call to run, and the 3-year-old colt took charge down the stretch to win the Jim Dandy by three-quarters of a length over Liveyourbeastlife.
“[The blinkers] did exactly what I was hoping,” Stidham said. “I know he was last down the back side, but he was definitely there when Jose called on him today, whereas the last time he made his run too late and had no chance. Today, when Jose called on him he was there for him, and I think the blinkers made that happen.”
With the attention of the thoroughbred racing world tuned on Churchill Downs Saturday for the Kentucky Derby, Mystic Guide — a son of Ghostzapper owned by Godolphin LLC — stamped himself as a potential contender for the Oct. 3 Preakness at Pimlico.
Stidham said he’ll “certainly be looking at” a run in the Preakness with Mystic Guide, but said he would take the same measured approach with the colt that led to picking the Jim Dandy as his next step forward after the Peter Pan, rather than a more ambitious run at either the Travers or the Kentucky Derby.
“We had the Travers in mind, but he didn’t give us what we needed in the Peter Pan to make that advance,” Stidham said. “The same thing with the Kentucky Derby. We just didn’t feel confident enough to make that kind of a move. So, we went for what we thought was a step forward, but not that big a step. Now, hopefully, we’ll continue to step forward.”
“Earlier in the year, we were even hoping that we would make the Kentucky Derby, we just felt like our horse hadn’t advanced to the point to think about the Derby,” Stidham added. “I had spoken to [Godolphin racing manager] Jimmy Bell multiple times, and we always felt that being patient with him was going to be the thing to do. That’s what we’ve done, and that’s what we’re going to stick with.”
Dr. Post, runner-up behind Tiz the Law at the Belmont Stakes in June, was sent off as the favorite in the Jim Dandy but never fired, finishing a well-beaten fourth.
Celtic Striker and First Line contested the early pace, and while Mystic Guide sat at the rear of the field through the first half-mile, the important thing for Ortiz was that he never lost contact with the field.
Heading into the stretch, Ortiz called on Mystic Guide for a rally, and unlike his uneven performance in the Peter Pan, on this occasion he responded, put a head in front and held on to the wire.
“Last time, he was very spotty,” Ortiz said. “He wanted to make a run, and he’d kind of stop running for a sixteenth of a mile and then want to run again. I think the blinkers made him more focused. It didn’t give him any more speed early — which I thought it would, but it didn’t. Going through the race, it kept him more focused.”
Liveyourbeastlife made a late run on the outside to get up for second under Junior Alvarado, with Jesus’ Team taking third under Luis Saez. Dr Post, Celtic Striker and First Line rounded out the order of finish.
“When I made the move outside, he started picking it up real nice; it was just a little too much to do at that point,” Alvarado said. “He still came out with a nice run at the end.”
Stidham said the decision about whether to aim Mystic Guide to the Preakness would have little to do with the result at Churchill Downs a little more than two hours after the Jim Dandy.
“If our horse comes out of the race really well,” he said, “we like the way he trains in the next couple of weeks, the Preakness would certainly be on the table — no matter what happens today [in the Derby].”
Favored Frank’s Rockette got in perfect early position in the Grade II $200,000 Prioress and struck when the time was right, as the 3-year-old filly dispatched the field by 2 1/2 lengths for her fourth win in five starts this year.
Running for the first time since a win in the Grade III Victory Ride on July 4 at Belmont Park, Frank’s Rockette sat second behind Hello Beautiful in the opening quarter-mile before taking charge and kicking clear for jockey Junior Alvarado and trainer Bill Mott to win the six-furlong sprint over Reagan’s Edge and Center Aisle — the exact same top three from the Victory Ride.
“She’s very quick out of the gate and she made my job easy today,” Alvarado said. “She got out of there and was easy to handle. I held her as long as I could, just waiting to turn for home. And when I asked her, she responded very nicely. At the end, she was traveling away from them.”
Morning line favorite Kimari, the only filly to beat Frank’s Rockette this year, was scratched.
The longer the distance, the better the result for Civil Union.
The 5-year-old mare posted back-to-back wins on the turf at Belmont Park earlier this summer, including the July 12 River Memories going 1 1/2 miles, and backed up that form Saturday with a third straight victory, stalking the pace and punching past pacesetter Beau Belle with a three-wide move down the stretch to win the 1 3/8-miles Grade II, $200,000 Glens Falls by a length for jockey Joel Rosario and trainer Shug McGaughey.
“I think she can run all day,” McGaughey said. “When she won the River Memories, she really punched hard from the eighth pole to the wire and she did the same thing today. It looks like when you ask her to go on and finish, she has it in her.”
My Sister Nat, winner of the Waya earlier in the meet, made a late bid to take second by a nose over Beau Belle, who held on for third.
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.