J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
top-notch racing at Saratoga will continue this weekend with several
competitive graded stakes races on the agenda, including the $600,000 Jim Dandy
Stakes for three-year-olds and the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr.
I) for older sprinters. While the field sizes aren't huge--there are five horses
in the Jim Dandy and eight in the Vanderbilt--I believe both races have the
potential to produce surprising results. Let's start handicapping!
Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II)
race is being billed as a showdown between Always
Dreaming and Cloud Computing,
and deservedly so. On paper, they appear to tower over the field--Always
Dreaming was brilliant early in the year, winning the Florida Derby (gr. I) and
Kentucky Derby (gr. I) in dominating fashion, while the lightly-raced Cloud
Computing rose quickly to impressive heights and won the Preakness Stakes (gr.
I) in just the fourth start of his career.
while their best form would make them difficult to beat, there are reasons to
believe that both colts can be upset. From 2007 through 2016, a span of ten
years, 25 different horses scored victories in Triple Crown races. Of those 25
horses, 23 came back to run after the Triple Crown season, with 15 suffering a
defeat in their first post-Triple Crown start. Even more striking, if you had
wagered $2 to win an all 23 horses, you would have wagered $46 for a return of
$28.90--an ROI of just $1.26.
essence, this is a roundabout way of saying that the winners of Triple Crown
races aren't usually a good bet in their first start after the Triple Crown.
Compared to their actual chances of winning, they're usually overbet thanks to
is it worth playing against Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing in the Jim
Dandy? I believe it is, though it helps that I also believe the least-known
runner in the field has a legitimate chance to pull off the upset.
horse I'm thinking of is Pavel, who
has made just one start to date. Owned by Reddam Racing and trained by Doug
O'Neill, Pavel caught my eye with his impressive maiden win sprinting 6 ½
furlongs at Santa Anita on July 1st, for he was part of a pretty
solid pace battle for the first half-mile before pulling away to score with
authority by 4 ½ lengths, earning a 97 Beyer.
interesting is that Pavel's pedigree suggests that longer distances are well
within his reach--in fact, being by Norfolk Stakes (gr. I) winner Creative Cause
out of a mare by Maria's Mon (the sire of Kentucky Derby winners Monarchos and
Super Saver), I think Pavel could show significant improvement while stretching
out around two turns.
the Jim Dandy Stakes will mark a huge step up in class for Pavel, but drawing
post position four in a small field (with Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing
to his inside) will give Pavel plenty of options for running style depending on
how the race unfolds. Doug O'Neill has spoken highly of Pavel, and with Always
Dreaming and Cloud Computing expected to draw most of the wagering attention, I
believe Pavel will go off at a solid price that will offset the risk involved
with playing such a lightly-raced horse.
would also like to mention Good
Samaritan, an accomplished stakes winner on turf that will make his dirt
debut in the Jim Dandy. Being by Harlan's Holiday out of a Pulpit mare, Good
Samaritan's pedigree suggests that the surface switch won't be an issue, though
his late-running style could put him at a disadvantage in a small field. He must be respected, but if I'm
going to take a shot with a horse trying something new, I'd rather try
front-running Pavel stretching out in distance than Good Samaritan switching surfaces,
though I'm very curious to see how Good Samaritan performs.
Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I)
accomplished sprinters will line up to contest this six-furlong race, including
the defending winner A. P. Indian,
who won six straight races last year to become a finalist for champion male
sprinter at the Eclipse Awards.
seven years old, A. P. Indian is still among the best sprinters in the country,
but he's been beaten in both of his runs this year, finishing second in the
Commonwealth Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland and second again in the Maryland
Sprint Stakes (gr. III) at Pimlico, beaten a half-length by the accomplished
A. P. Indian possibly a step slower this year, I'm tempted to try and beat him
for the top spot. A logical alternative is Limousine
Liberal, who has won three straight races at Churchill Downs this year, but
Limousine Liberal's previous forays into Grade 1 company have not yielded the
best results, and it's fair to wonder if he can reproduce his very best form
away from Kentucky, where he has been based throughout his career.
a bit more intrigued by the newcomer El
Deal. The son of Munnings was a decent low-level stakes horse early in his
career, but since being transferred to the barn of Jorge Navarro during the
winter, he has transformed into a different horse. In his first start for
Navarro, El Deal crushed four rivals in a 4 ½-furlong handicap race at Charles
Town, setting blazing fractions of :21.38 and :44.36 while drawing off to win
by 7 ¾ lengths. He was even more impressive in the six-furlong Decathlon Stakes
on June 11th at Monmouth Park, opening up a clear lead through
sensational fractions of :21.26 and :43.12 before winning by three lengths with
a final time of 1:08.59.
those efforts, El Deal received Beyer speed figures of 101 and 102, the highest
numbers earned by any of the Vanderbilt runners in their recent starts. With
his phenomenal early speed, El Deal figures to work out an ideal trip setting
the pace while saving ground and carrying just 114 pounds, the lightest
assignment in the field and six pounds less than A. P. Indian will carry. With
Javier Castellano in the saddle, I think El Deal could be tough to catch, though I would want a somewhat better price than his 7-2 morning line odds.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes races?
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.