Throw out the Jim Dandy.
That’s what Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito is doing when looking at Fast Falcon, who was unwilling in the slop covering that weekend of the traditional prep race for Saturday’s Grade I $1 million Travers. Since then, Fast Falcon has looked like he has returned to form.
That form won him a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight race at Pimlico on May 11, then placed him second in the Easy Goer and Grade II Dwyer at Belmont, both times behind Teeth of the Dog.
“[Jockey] Junior Alvarado, who seems to be riding extremely well here, said, ‘Nick, whatever you do, please put the horse in.’ He worked very well for him,” Zito said. “He loved the way he worked. He rode him in the Easy Goer, where he finished second to Teeth of the Dog. Then Rosie [Napravnik] came back and he rode extremely well in the Dwyer. And then the last race was mud, and Rosie said he didn’t like the slop at all.”
Fast Falcon’s closing style that brought him within a neck of winning the Dwyer was lacking in the muck, and he faded to seventh, 83⁄4 lengths behind winner Alpha.
“He wasn’t the same horse,” Zito said. “He didn’t handle well at all. It was a funny track that weekend. It was rough. So, we’re going to give it another whirl.”
Napravnik rode Fast Falcon in his last two starts, but Alvarado will be up for the Travers.
Alvarado has 18 wins at the meet, along with 19 seconds and 20 thirds from 137 starts, winning at a 13 percent clip. He has claimed five stakes races, including the Grade II Honorable Miss aboard C C’s Pal and the Grade I Prioress aboard Emma’s Encore. He is 5-for-13 in stakes races (38 percent), and has been in the money in seven of them (48 percent).
The decision whether to run Fast Falcon in the Travers was tabled until his most recent work, when he breezed five furlongs in 1:00.54 Friday, fifth fastest of 13 at that distance over the main track. When Alvarado came back with good news for Zito, he had a chat with owner Richard Pell.
“We talked about it, and now we’re in,” Zito said. “He was excited. Of course, God forbid, [if] it rains, I don’t think he wants to run.”
Fast Falcon was born to run this kind of race. He has never gone 11⁄4 miles, but has been running well through dirt routes all year, if the sloppy Jim Dandy is disregarded. Even then, he was in position through the first six furlongs, trailing the leader by three lengths at that point.
He was unraced as a juvenile, but has been on a steady schedule since beginning his career in March. He was far off in his debut over six furlongs, then was sixth by four lengths in a turf try at a mile at Gulfstream Park. Zito then moved him back to the dirt for his Pimlico score.
His sire won the Jim Dandy and was third in the 1997 Travers, going on to win the Whitney and the Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicap here in 1998 before winning the Classic as a 4-year-old.
“I like our chances, I like that the horse is bred to go long,” Zito said. “He’s by Awesome Again. Awesome Again won the Breeders’ Cup Classic [in 1998 at Churchill Downs], so that’s good. It’s a good sign. And the horse is doing very well, and why not?”