With the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes already retired, and two-time Classic runner-up Bodemeister in recovery mode, a whole bunch of purse money is up for grabs this weekend in the three-year-old division.
Saratoga has the $100,000 Curlin Stakes on Friday and the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) on Saturday. Then Monmouth hosts the $1-million Haskell Invitational (G1) on Sunday. All three races are 1 1/8 miles on the dirt.
The Haskell drew just six, from the rail out: Nonios, Dullahan, Paynter, Gemologist, Handsome Mike, and Stealcase. Due to the short field, I don'y see myself betting the Haskell, but it should be an entertaining race to watch.
I think Gemologist could be the slight favorite based on his form prior to the Kentucky Derby, his only career defeat. He was extremely game when winning the Wood Memorial. I would love to see Gemologist and Paynter hook up in the stretch. Paynter has a ton of ability, but he got reeled in by the very classy Union Rags in the Belmont after being sent to the lead in the 1 1/2 -mile classic. A stretch duel with the physically imposing Gemologist or stretch running Dullahan would be a good test for him.
There still are questions about how good Dullahan is on dirt. Both of his career wins came on Keeneland's Polytrack, and I am sure that fact is being mentioned when they go to the stud farms to try to get a deal. They are after the $1-million and a Grade 1 win on dirt in here to boost his value. I've always thought Dullahan looked a little more efficient on turf or synthetic.
Nonios, who has raced exclusively on the synthetic tracks in California, is another question mark. His form looks great at 5:3-1-1, but he hasn't beaten any top horses. The same can be said for Liaison, who has done all his best running on Hollywood Park's pseudo-synthetic course.
In the Jim Dandy, I am giving the nod to Neck N Neck (3-1 ML odds), who has found a nice balance of tracking speed and closing punch. He holds a speed figure edge over this field. The horses I like underneath him at a price include Fast Falcon (10-1), Atigun (8-1), and Prospective (12-1).
But honestly, the Jim Dandy is wide open. Alpha, who got turned back by Gemologist in the Wood, was a huge disappointment in the Kentucky Derby. He has some things to prove in the second half of the year. DRF lists Alpha as the 5-2 ML favorite. I am against him at that price.
There is nothing wrong with Teeth of the Dog at 5-1, although I question if that morning line is accurate. He has put together two nice back-to-back efforts, including his last when he won the pace battle up front and held off a closing Fast Falcon.
The Curlin is the least important of the three races, but it is the one I am most interested in making a bet. Easter Gift (7-2 ML odds) looks like a very talented horse off of his first three races. He has shown the ability to run on or off the pace, and he displayed a wonderful distance focus trying to run down Le Bernardin in the Pegasus (G3) after bumping at the break and falling way too far back at Monmouth.