It can’t help the confidence of the rest of the Jim Dandy field that this is just about the perfect spot for the favored Tonalist.
The Belmont winner has twice come back off brief layoffs of one to three months, and both times won by four lengths at 1 1⁄8 miles. The first time, he broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park in January. The second time, he beat Belmont runner-up Commissioner in the Grade II Peter Pan in May.
For the Grade II Jim Dandy today, he comes off a 49-day break from racing, and he is the 8-5 favorite on the morning line for the 11⁄8-mile Travers prep.
“I think the timing is great,” said Tonalist trainer Christophe Clement. “He had a little bit of a break after the Belmont. He’s had four breezes, he looks good. I think it’s very exciting for the owner, and for all of us.”
He is 3-1-0 from his last four starts.
The field isn’t huge — just six horses, and that’s only if trainer Linda Rice decides to run Kid Cruz instead of waiting for the West Virginia Derby next Saturday — but they have a cumulative six Triple Crown runs. Aside from Tonalist, Kid Cruz ran eighth in the Belmont,
Commanding Curve was second in the Kentucky Derby and ninth in the Belmont and Wicked Strong was fourth in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont.
Wicked Strong is the 2-1 second choice from post position 7 and adds blinkers after disappointing trainer James Jerkens by spitting his bit on the backstretch in the Belmont.
“I thought he lost crucial position, doing that,” Jerkens said. “I thought he could have laid closer without expending any more energy. I’m just hoping the blinkers keep him a little more on the muscle, especially [today], when there doesn’t look like there’s a whole lot of speed. I would hate for him to fall too far out of it, especially breaking from the outside. You want to save ground if you can.”
Despite losing ground, he still closed to within 1 3⁄4 lengths of Tonalist by the wire, thanks in no small part to strong urging by jockey Rajiv Maragh.
Wicked Strong’s resumé is highlighted by his win in the Grade I Wood Memorial in April, a win at this distance over Samraat and Social Inclusion.
Commanding Curve is just inside Wicked Strong and is the 5-1 third choice. Inside of him is 8-1 Kid Cruz, who won the Grade III Dwyer his last time out. Tonalist is in post position 4, and inside of him is 15-1 Ulanbator, who was third in the Dwyer and second in the Grade III Matt Winn at Churchill Downs in June. He is 1-1-2 from his last four starts.
On the far inside — post 2, since Cousin Stephen was run in Friday’s Curlin instead of taking the rail here — is the 12-1 ridgling Legend, who has looked strong since his surgery to remove a twisted testicle.
“Winning.” was trainer James Bond’s simple answer to how much more comfortably Legend runs.
“He’s done fantastic. Everything’s been really good, and he’s happy. Everything’s going according to plan.”
Legend is 1-3-0 from his last four starts, his three runner-up finishes coming by a combined five lengths. Bond said his development has been “nothing short of amazing,” but he was reluctant to have the surgery performed.
“I knew it was a problem for a little while, but unfortunately, he’s worth a lot of money as a stallion, and you don’t like to if you don’t have to remove a testicle,” Bond said. “He’s always shown ability. I always thought he was a really good horse. It’s a tough thing to do, to tell a client, ‘You’ve got a great horse and you’re looking at a possible Grade I one day,’ and the trainer wants to remove his breeding parts.”
Legend will be ridden by Luis Saez, who has been up for all five of his career starts.
Clement will turn again to Joel Rosario, who rode Tonalist in his debut and returned for both the Peter Pan and Belmont wins.
“I’m not going to worry too much about [the pace setup],” he said. “That’s the reason I use Rosario. I let him worry about that. My instruction will be, ‘Wherever you are comfortable, just ride your race. You know, no extreme. Don’t send him like crazy, don’t fight him like crazy. Just be comfortable.’ The horse is a nice horse. As long as he’s comfortable and Rosario is happy, I’m happy.”
And if he performs as well as he has in similar spots this year, Clement will be happy, and owner Robert Evans will be happy. He needs only a good showing, not necessarily a win, to propel him to the Travers on Aug. 23.
“The main thing for me is to be competitive tomorrow,” Clement said, “to run a strong race, to come back sound. It’ll be a huge race for us.”
The 9-5 morning-line favorite for today’s Grade II Amsterdam, Rock Fall, is expected to scratch out of the race because trainer Todd Pletcher is not pleased with the way the 3-year-old son of Speightstown is moving.
That leaves 3-1 Coup de Grace as the favorite for the 6 1⁄2-furlong dirt sprint for 3-year-olds, coming off a neck win in the Oh Say at Delaware Park. Captain Serious is the 4-1 second choice after a runner-up finish in the Grade III Dwyer by three-quarters of a length, and 8-1 Noble Moon inherits the third-choice role.
Coup de Grace won the Grade III Bay Shore in April at Aqueduct. The Tapit colt has four wins from six career starts. Captain Serious began his career this year, winning his first three races before his near-miss behind Kid Cruz in the Dwyer.