Will a New King Be Crowned in the Jim Dandy?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

The $500,000 Jim Dandy S. (G2) at Saratoga boasts an impressive roster of recent winners.

Epicenter (2022) and Essential Quality (2021) went on to win Saratoga's Travers S. (G1) and earn champion three-year-old male honors at the Eclipse Awards. Mystic Guide (2020) eventually won a Dubai World Cup (G1). Stay Thirsty (2011) and Alpha (2012) pulled off the Jim Dandy/Travers double, while Palace Malice (2013) came in as a Belmont S. (G1) winner and Texas Red (2015) had previously won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1).

Since the Jim Dandy serves as a prominent steppingstone toward the Travers, it tends to draw a strong field. But the field tends to be small; the last nine editions have all featured six or fewer starters. And those small fields can get tricky from a pace perspective.

A great example is the 2016 Jim Dandy. The six-horse field came up strong, with the top two finishers from the Belmont (Creator and Destin) squaring off against four-time Grade 2 winner Mohaymen, exiting a respectable fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Few bettors felt like backing Laoban, a 27-1 longshot who had never won a race. But Laoban managed to escape with an uncontested lead through slow fractions of :24.56, :49.07, and 1:12.46, after which he sprinted the final three furlongs in a fast :35.93 to score by 1 1/4 lengths over Belmont fourth-place finisher Governor Malibu. Destin settled for third place, Mohaymen weakened to fourth, and stretch-running Creator never fired while finishing sixth.

Will we see a similar outcome in the 2023 Jim Dandy? On paper, the five-horse field contains little in the way of pace. Let's quickly analyze the entrants from a running style perspective:

#1 Disarm (6-1): This improving son of Gun Runner tracked a slow pace from third place when nabbing the Matt Winn S. (G3) over next-out Indiana Derby (G3) winner Verifying, but tends to close from farther behind, such as when charging from 13th position to finish fourth in the Kentucky Derby (G1).

#2 Forte (7-5): Last year's champion two-year-old male tends to settle no closer than midpack, which is the strategy he employed when finishing a rallying second in the Belmont off a 10-week layoff. He'd previously rallied from ninth place in a field of 12 to beat future Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage in the Florida Derby (G1).

#3 Hit Show (6-1): Hit Show was able to track the Belmont pace from third place before weakening slightly to finish in a dead-heat for fourth, but in his previous six starts he was never positioned closer than fifth place in the early going. In the Withers S. (G3), Hit Show closed from fifth place in a field of seven to win by 5 1/2 lengths.

#4 Saudi Crown (5-2): The only proven pacesetter in the Jim Dandy field carved out intense fractions of :22.47, :44.63, and 1:08.84 in the one-mile Dwyer S. (G3) before battling on to finish second by a nose while pulling 11 lengths clear of the rest. He'd previously wired a 6 1/2-furlong allowance at Keeneland.

#5 Angel of Empire (5-2): The deep-closing Arkansas Derby (G1) and Risen Star (G2) winner rallied from 16th place to finish third in the Kentucky Derby. An attempt to stay closer to the pace in the Belmont proved less productive as he raced in fourth place at every call.

Saudi Crown is the only Jim Dandy entrant without a graded stakes win to his credit, but the tactical advantage he holds may prove insurmountable. The Dwyer was a fast race, with Saudi Crown earning a 104 Brisnet Speed rating and a 106 Beyer Speed Figure, so if he shakes loose on an uncontested slow pace in the Jim Dandy... who's going to catch him?

Forte can't be underestimated, but he's adding blinkers in an effort to sharpen his focus, and it's hard to predict whether the blinkers will help or hinder his performance in a race scenario. Disarm has shown the ability to finish strongly into slow paces in the past, including when second in the Louisiana Derby (G2), but he hasn't yet done so against a field of this caliber.

In the end, I can't look past Saudi Crown's combination of early speed and raw talent. His improving profile leaves room for a career-best effort while stretching out around two turns in the Jim Dandy, especially if he escapes with an easy lead. In this paceless race, I'm confident Saudi Crown's speed will win the day.


1st: Saudi Crown
2nd: Forte
3rd: Disarm

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Jim Dandy?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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