Withers winner Alpha turned in his final breeze on Saturday morning for next weekend’s Grade II Jim Dandy, the traditional Travers prep at Saratoga Race Course.
The Godolphin Racing colt went four furlongs in 49.58 on the main track for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin as the Jim Dandy field starts to take shape.
Since winning the Withers, Alpha was second to Gemologist in the Wood Memorial and 12th in the Kentucky Derby.
“He worked fast last week, so we were looking for him to go an easy 49 today,” McLaughlin told the New York Racing Association. “His ears were pricked, and he was happy, so we’re happy.”
Others pointing toward the Jim Dandy are Dwyer winner Teeth of the Dog, Gemologist, Tampa Bay Derby winner Prospective, Dwyer runner-up Fast Falcon, Atigun and Neck ‘n Neck.
Trainer Mark Casse has two good 3-year-olds, Prospective and Stealcase, and he’d like to keep them in separate races, so Stealcase will likely go to the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
Casse’s son and assistant, Norman, said the choice came down to track surfaces.
“Stealcase is probably our second-best 3-year-old. He’s been running real well, knocking on the door in a couple of races,” he said. “What our logic is thinking right now is Monmouth is a little more like Churchill, his favorite racetrack, and with Prospective, Tampa is really deep and very comparable to here.”
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said Fast Falcon will be ridden by Rosie Napravnik in the Jim Dandy.
“It was a great second [in the Dwyer],” he said. “It took everything for Teeth of the Dog to beat him.”
Atigun hasn’t won a stakes race, but his late-running third in the Belmont Stakes was encouraging, trainer Kenny McPeek said.
With Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another and Belmont winner Union Rags retired, horses like Atigun have a better chance to win some of the big races for 3-year-olds left on the schedule.
“It looks to me like the whole division fell apart,” McPeek said. “Our colt’s been nice and steady. He seems to be improving, and his race in the Belmont was an excellent race for him. He needs a lot of distance, though. That’s a tricky one. He’s going to the Jim Dandy as a prep for the Travers.
“He needs to run well and be finishing. I think he can win at a mile and an eighth, if things kind of fall in his favor. And he’s doing well to think that he could.”
In the other 3-year-old stakes next weekend, Friday’s Curlin, are Street Life, Ever So Lucky, Five Sixteen, Love to Run, Reload, Csaba and Dynamical.
Street Life is trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown and is a son of Street Sense, who won the 2007 Kentucky Derby, then swept the Jim Dandy and Travers.
Dullahan, owned in part by Ray Bryan of Saratoga Springs through Donegal Racing, and Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter are headed to the Haskell.
UNION RAGS DONE
Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, who won the Saratoga Special last year, has been retired with a tendon injury to his left foreleg.
Owner Phyllis Wyeth and trainer Michael Matz wanted to bring him back as a 4-year-old next year, but decided to retire him to stud.
Although there is interest from overseas, Wyeth wants to sell Union Rags to a breeding farm in the U.S., according to NYRA.
“It’s a love affair she had with the horse, and she didn’t want him to go somewhere where she can’t find him,” bloodstock adviser Russell Jones said.
A FEW MORE BUCKS
Home-bred Sam’s Buck rallied to reel in Quiet Knock in the fourth race, earning Schenectady doctor Gerardus Jameson his third win at Saratoga.
Jameson won here with Buck Mountain (Aug. 29, 2004) and Frivolous Buck (Sept. 6, 2010). Frivolous Buck — who was third last year at Saratoga in both the Irish Linnet and the Yaddo — and Buck Mountain are both out of broodmare Terminal Buck, and Sam’s Buck is out of Buck Mountain.
With Frivolous Buck retired now, having come up a little lame after a workout, Sam’s Buck is the biggest thing going for Jameson on the track.
“This is my meal ticket, so hopefully, he’ll stay well,” Jameson said. “He’s kind of a nut. He does whatever he feels like doing. I tried to give him a carrot one time and the cell phone [rang]. I said, ‘Wait a minute,’ but he walked away and he wouldn’t come back for a year and a half.”
Sam’s Buck and jockey Cornelio Velasquez were nowhere to be seen until they rounded into the stretch and started pulling in the leaders from the outside. Sam’s Buck broke his maiden with the win in his seventh career race.
“He has to be outside because he’s small. He gets intimidated inside,” Jameson said. “So we wanted Cornelio, and we wanted him outside.”
Royal Delta, who won the Alabama last year on the way to the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award, held off 28-1 Tiz Miz Sue to win the Delaware Handicap at Delaware Park.
Awesome Maria had an awkward start and recovered enough to challenge for the lead on the second turn, but fell back to third.
Fiddlers Patriot opened the card with a win in the $100,000 Willard Straight, covering the 51⁄2 furlongs on the Mellon Turf in 1:00.63, just 0.04 seconds off the track record he set Aug. 30, 2010.
Eddie Castro guided the 6-year-old grandson of Affirmed past dueling Zero Rate Policy and Bridgetown in the turn to emerge as the leader at the top of the stretch. He increased his lead to 21⁄2 lengths at the wire to pay $7.90 to win.
Perfect Officer rallied late to place, edging favored Bridgetown by a head. Zero Rate Policy, trained by Saratoga Central Catholic graduate Teresa Pompay, faded quickly to finish last in the seven-horse field.
Among those headed to the Diana next Saturday are Zagora, who gave Brown the first Grade I victory of his career, Grade I Just a Game winner Tapitsfly and Winter Memories, second in the Just a Game.
Winter Memories won the Lake George last year as a 3-year-old, then was a troubled fourth in the Lake Placid.
She became a Grade I winner in September when she won the Garden City, and opened the 2012 season with a win in the Beaugay.
Her dam, Memories of Silver, won the Diana in 1998, when it was a Grade II.
In the Just a Game, Winter Memories finished 21⁄4 lengths behind Tapitsfly, trained by Dale Romans.
“No excuses last time, we just got outrun by Dale’s filly,” trainer Jimmy Toner said. “We had to spot her so much and try to catch her. Meanwhile, she ran her race and ran it well, and we expect her to run well next weekend.
“As far as last year, we started out good with her. I just think it was a combination of things, coming back a little bit closer than I’d like to running her back, and she got beaten. That’s part of the game. You win and you lose.”