by Jon White
July 29, 2021
Essential Quality, who currently is the highest-ranking 3-year-old colt in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, is expected to be an overwhelming favorite vs. five foes in this Saturday’s Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes.
When last seen under silks, Essential Quality showed his class to win an American classic. He captured the Grade I Belmont Stakes on June 5 for trainer Brad Cox.
Will someone step up and defeat Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy? Probably not. But those who will be betting on him with both hands to win the Jim Dandy should beware that this race will be run at Saratoga, aka “the graveyard of favorites.”
As recently as last Saturday a big favorite was defeated in a big race at Saratoga. Hammered down to 3-10 favoritism, Malathaat finished second when 14-1 Maracuja won the Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks by a head.
It was yet another example of what can happen to an odds-on favorite in an important stakes race at Saratoga. Malathaat was five for five going into the CCA Oaks, having won at Belmont Park, Aqueduct, Keeneland and Churchill Downs.
And what happened when Malathaat showed up for the first time in a race at Saratoga? She lost.
Maracuja was one for five going into the CCA Oaks. In the Grade I Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs on April 30, Maracuja finished seventh, 7 1/2 lengths behind Malathaat.
But when Maracuja got a rematch against Malathaat last Saturday at Saratoga, Maracuja turned the tables on that rival and spoiled Malathaat’s unblemished record.
Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Secretariat both were upset at Saratoga.
American Pharoah was heavily favored at 35 cents to the dollar in the 2015 Travers. He finished second, three-quarters of a length behind 16-1 Keen Ice.
In 1973, Secretariat worked one mile at Sarataga in 1:34 flat on July 27. The track record at that time was 1:34 4/5. But eight days later, Secretariat was unable to win the Whitney Stakes.
In the book “Big Red of Meadow Stable,” William Nack wrote of Secretariat that the Whitney “looked like a soft touch for him, but it wasn’t. Trainer H. Allen Jerkens had his chestnut Onion ready to run the race of his life, and that was all that was needed to defeat an ailing Secretariat.”
Secretariat, with regular rider Ron Turcotte aboard, raced in fourth early, while Onion set the pace. With a furlong to go, Onion led by head over Secretariat. The one-mile time in the 1 1/8-mile event was a pedestrian 1:36 flat. That clocking was two seconds (or approximately 10 lengths) slower than Secretariat’s clocking in that one-mile workout eight days earlier, proving this was far from the “real” Secretariat.
“When Turcotte set him down, he never fired -- certainly not as he had fired in the Triple Crown races in the spring,” Nack wrote of Secretariat in the Whitney. “He appeared dull…He had Onion hooked in the stretch, with Secretariat on the rail, but the red horse couldn’t get by him in the drive, and in the final yards Onion pulled away to beat him by a length. The next day Secretariat was running a temperature. He was out of training for the rest of August. Secretariat’s veterinarian, Mark Girard, said that he was probably incubating a virus prior to the race.”
Secretariat, a 1-10 favorite in the Whitney, had to settle for second to 5-1 Onion.
Mighty Man o’ War suffered his one and only defeat at -- where else? -- Saratoga. He finished second to the aptly named Upset in the 1919 Sanford Stakes. Man o’War won all 20 of his other starts during his fabulous racing career.
Gallant Fox swept the Triple Crown in 1930. He took a seven-race winning streak into the Travers.
In the book “The Most Glorious Crown,” Marvin Drager wrote of Gallant Fox coming up to the Travers, “to some, he was unquestionably America’s greatest horse since Man o’ War.”
Gallant Fox was sent away as the 1-2 favorite against three foes in the Travers. Whichone was 8-5, Sun Falcon was 30-1 and Jim Dandy was virtually ignored by the bettors at 100-1.
The weather for the 1930 Travers “was extremely uncooperative,” wrote Drager. “A heavy downpour the night before left the track in horrible shape.”
According to Gallant Fox’s Daily Racing Form past performances, the track was “heavy,” meaning it not only was wet, it was so deep as to be a bog.
Most people expected Gallant Fox to make it eight wins in a row despite the heavy going.
However, in The Blood-Horse magazine’s 1969 series “The Great Ones,” Kent Hollingsworth wrote of the 1930 Travers that “when it was generally accepted that no 3-year-old in the world could beat Gallant Fox, he was beaten.”
In one of the most shocking outcomes in the history of American racing, Jim Dandy defied his astronomical odds and won by eight lengths. Gallant Fox finished second.
The Travers was Gallant Fox’s lone defeat in 10 starts as a 3-year-old. This also was Jim Dandy’s only win in 20 starts at 3.
It should be noted, though, that Jim Dandy previously had managed to win Saratoga’s 1929 Grand Union Stakes at odds of 50-1 when running on a track very similar to that for the 1930 Travers.
As for this Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes, named for the shocking 1930 Travers winner, I expect Essential Quality to get the job done. However, I do have four concerns.
First, this $600,000 race is not as important as the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers on Aug. 28 for Essential Quality.
“Our main goal this summer is the Travers,” Cox said in a Daily Racing Form story written by David Grening. “We’ll see how things go in the Jim Dandy, but I certainly do feel like he’s as good as he’s been. His weight, his attitude, the way he’s eating is just really good.
“We’re looking for a good race out of him, an opportunity for him to get a feel for the surface, and hopefully he’ll have some gas in the tank for four weeks later.”
Second, Essential Quality is coming off a career-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the Belmont. He almost certainly is going to regress, or “bounce,” after recording his highest figure yet. It does help, though, that this will be his first race in eight weeks, giving him time to replenish his gas tank.
Third, Essential Quality is cutting back in distance from 1 1/2 miles to 1 1/8 miles. This situation sometimes can prove troublesome. I believe one of the reasons that Easy Goer did not win the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1989 is that he was cutting back from the 1 1/2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Sunday Silence went into the BC Classic off the 1 1/4-mile Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. The distance of the Jockey Club Gold Cup was shortened to 1 1/4 miles in 1990 to make it a better fit with the BC Classic.
Fourth, as explained earlier, one can never be totally confident when picking a favorite in a Saratoga stakes race.
Below are my selections for the Jim Dandy:
1. Essential Quality
Essential Quality was voted a 2020 Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. The Kentucky-bred Tapit colt has won six of seven lifetime starts going into the Jim Dandy. He’s been perfect other than finishing fourth in the Grade I Kentucky Derby on May 1.
Though Essential Quality did not win the Kentucky Derby, I believe a case can be made that he ran the best race as the 5-2 favorite. As I have previously pointed out, according to Trakus, Essential Quality had such a wide trip that he traveled 68 feet (approximately seven to eight lengths) farther than 12-1 Medina Spirit, who finished first in the field of 19.
Many have raved about Hot Rod Charlie for running such a terrific race in defeat in the Belmont. I agree that Hot Rod Charlie’s performance in the Belmont deserved praise because he managed to finish second despite running the first quarter-mile in :22.78 or :22 3/5 in fifths. It was the fastest opening quarter in the history of the Belmont when contested at 1 1/2 miles. The Belmont was first run in 1867.
However, Hot Rod Charlie received so much attention for his effort in the Belmont that it seemed to overshadow Essential Quality’s victorious performance. Essential Quuality ran his final quarter in :24 3/5. How marvelous was that? When Secretariat won the 1973 Belmont by a stupendous 31 lengths and posted a final time of 2:24 flat to obliterate the track record by 2 3/5 seconds, he ran the final quarter in :25 flat.
It’s also to Essential Quality’s credit that, again according to Trakus, he traveled 45 feet (approximately five lengths) farther than Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont.
As I see it, Masqueparade is the main threat to Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy. The Kentucky-bred Upstart colt appears to be blossoming for trainer Al Stall Jr.
On the Kentucky Derby undercard, Masqueparade won a 1 1/8-mile allowance/optional claiming race by 11 3/4 lengths. He received a 97 Beyer Speed Figure, just slightly lower than the 100 Beyer that Essential Quality recorded in the Run for the Roses.
Masqueparade’s 97 was a giant leap in the Beyer Speed Figure department from his previous top of an 81. He proved the 91 was not a fluke by registering a 98 when he subsequently won the Ohio Derby by a half-length as a 2-1 favorite (from an 8-1 morning line) at Thistledown on June 26 in his graded stakes debut.
Following Masqueparade’s win in the Grade III Ohio Derby, he now will try to continue his winning ways at the Grade II level this Saturday.
Masqueparade had a crisp four-furlong workout in :47.59 last Friday at Saratoga. It was the third-fastest of 87 works at the distance that morning on Saratoga’s main track.
“He came out of the Ohio Derby well, shipped up here [to Saratoga] well, had a couple of breezes and he’s galloping fine,” Stall was quoted as saying to horseracingnation.com’s Matt Stahl. “It looks like a one-horse race with a legitimate 2-5, 3-5 shot. We’ll just see how competitive we are with arguably the best three-year-old in the country. Just trying to see where he stacks up with that type of horse…Our horse has improved quite a bit lately. We just want to give him a chance to see how much more he can improve.”
Keepmeinmind is taking another crack at Essential Quality this Saturday. Thus far, Keepmeinmind has been outrun by Essential Quality all four times that they have met.
When Essential Quality won the Grade I Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland last year on Oct. 3, Keepmeinmind finished second as a maiden. When Essential Quality won the Grade I BC Juvenile at Keeneland on Nov. 6, Keepmeinmind ran third while still a maiden.
Keepmeinmind then earned his maiden diploma by taking the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill on Nov. 28. Off that win, it appeared that the Kentucky-bred Laoban colt might do quite well this year. But Keepmeinmind has not won a race this year. In fact, he has finished better than third only once in five 2021 starts so far.
In one of Keepmeinmind’s four losses this year, he again was defeated by Essential Quality. When Essential Quality won the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland on April 3, Keepmeinmind finished finish fifth and lost by 16 lengths.
In the Kentucky Derby, Keepmeinmind lacked early speed and never threatened when again outrun by Essential Quality. Keepmeinmind certainly did not disgrace himself, though. After being 19th early, he generated enough of a rally to finish seventh.
In his next start, Keepmeinmind acquitted himself well in defeat. He finished third, only a half-length behind the victorious Masqueparade, in the Ohio Derby. Keepmeinmind recorded a career-best 97 Beyer Speed Figure in that race, which could serve as a good building block to the Jim Dandy.
Weyburn lost by only a neck in a fine try when second to Mandaloun in Monmouth Park’s Pegasus Stakes on June 13. Mandaloun, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby, won the recent Grade I Haskell Stakes at Monmouth via the disqualification of Hot Rod Charlie.
Jimmy Jerkens trains Weyburn, who earlier this year won Aqueduct’s Grade III Gotham Stakes on March 6.
This Saturday, Jimmy Jerkens endeavors to upset Essential Quality with Weyburn. Jerkens is trying to take a page out of his late Hall of Famer father’s book in that, as noted earlier, it was Allen Jerkens who sent out Onion to topple Secretariat in the 1973 Whitney.
VANDERBILT ALSO ON SARATOGA PROGRAM
Also to be decided this Saturday at Saratoga is the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, a six-furlong sprint that has drawn an excellent field of nine.
Below are my selections for the Vanderbilt:
1. Mischevious Alex
3. Firenze Fire
4. Miles Ahead
Mischevious Alex cuts back to six furlongs and bids to resume his winning ways after finishing third in the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park on June 5. All three of his 2001 starts prior to the Met Mile were in races shorter than one mile. He won those three races by 3 1/4 lengths or more.
In his most recent start before the Met Mile, Mischevious Alex won Aqueduct’s Grade I Carter Handicap with authority by 5 1/2 lengths on April 3. I ranked this at No. 7 on my list of the Top 10 performances by a Thoroughbred in the United States this year from Jan. 1 through June 30.
In the Carter, Mischevious Alex raced third early in the field of five. He took command with a furlong to go and drew away while proving a punctual 4-5 favorite. The 4-year-old Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., completed seven furlongs in 1:23.97.
Mischevious Alex recorded a 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the Carter. From a Beyer standpoint, no one recorded a higher figure during the first half of 2021. Only one horse matched that figure. Essential Quality likewise received a 109 Beyer for his victory in the Belmont Stakes.
The only bigger 2001 Beyer to date than 109 is Knick’s Go’s 113 for his 10 1/4-length victory in Prairie Meadows’ Grade III Cornhusker Handicap at 1 1/8 miles on July 2. Knicks Go is scheduled to make his next start in Saratoga’s Grade I Whitney Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Aug. 7.
Whitmore was voted a 2021 Eclipse Award as champion male sprinter after he won the Grade I BC Sprint at odds of 18-1. Though he is winless in three starts this year at the age of 8, he has finished second or third each time. In his most recent outing, Whitmore lost by only a head when third to Flagstaff and Lexingtonian in the Grade II Churchill Downs Stakes on May 1.
Firenze Fire comes into the Vanderbilt in sharp form. He has two wins and a second from three 2021 starts, all at Belmont. After winning the Grade III Runhappy Stakes on May 8 and Grade II True North Stakes on June 4, the 6-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect lost a toughie when runner-up by a head to Mind Control in the Grade II John A. Nerud Stakes on July 4.
Trained by Kelly Breen, Firenze Fire has lost six in a row on Saratoga’s main track since winning the Grade III Sanford Stakes on it in 2017.
Miles Ahead, who was in for a $12,000 claiming tag with no takers early in 2020, comes off a half-length win in the Grade III Smile Sprint Stakes at Gulfstream Park on July 3.
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO…?
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is represented in the Vanderbilt by Strike Power, who comes off a third in the Kelly’s Landing Stakes at Churchill on June 25.
Asmussen is on the verge of equaling Dale Baird’s all-time North American training record of 9,445 victories. Through Tuesday, July 27, Asmussen trailed Baird by only 10, according to Equibase.
“The 9,445 has been on my mind and it is the goal,” Asmussen said in a Daily Racing Form story written by Marcus Hersh. “However many licensed trainers there’ve been in the history of the sport, I’d like to be the one to do it.”
Asmussen also nominated Yaupon to the Vanderbilt, but the 4-year-old Uncle Mo colt was not entered. Yaupon won the six-furlong Lit the Fuse Stakes at Pimlico on July 4 as a 2-5 favorite.
After winning the first four races of his career, Yaupon finished eighth as the 13-10 favorite in the G1 BC Sprint in his final 2020 start.
Speaking of Asmussen-trained sprinters, whatever happened to Nashville? He seems to have disappeared after finishing fourth as the 13-10 favorite in Santa Anita’s Grade I Malibu Stakes last Dec. 26.
The exceedingly swift Nashville was undefeated before his loss in the Malibu, winning by 11 1/2, 9 3/4 and 3 1/2 lengths.
Even though Nashville has not had a recorded workout since the Malibu, the Costa Rica-based gambling website Bovada currently lists him as the 6-1 favorite for this year’s BC Sprint at Del Mar on Nov. 6. Firenze Fire is 7-1. C Z Rocket and Yaupon are each 8-1. Flagstaff, Mind Control and Whitmore are each 16-1.
In addition to Nashville, whatever happened to Q B One and Uncle Chuck?
Last year on July 8, Q B One led off Jay Privman’s Daily Racing Form story regarding 2-year-olds to watch for at the upcoming Del Mar summer meet.
Q B One, trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, is a son of Eclipse Award winner Uncle Mo and four-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder. Q B One is Beholder’s first foal.
“He’s a big, growthy colt,” Privman quoted Mandella as saying.
According to Privman, Mandella at that time said “Q B One isn’t far off from making his debut.”
But over a year later, Q B One still has yet to make his debut. He hasn’t had a recorded workout since going five furlongs in 1:00.20 on Jan. 16 at Santa Anita.
Uncle Chuck raced three times last year. He won a maiden race at Santa Anita by three lengths, then registered a four-length victory in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby. In his next start, Uncle Chuck was the 5-2 second favorite vs. 1-2 wagering choice Tiz the Law in the Grade I Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 8.
Tiz the Law won the Travers by 5 1/2 lengths. Uncle Chuck finished sixth. I was looking forward to seeing what Uncle Chuck might do this year. In his only recorded workout since the Travers, he was timed in :37.60 for a three-furlong move on Jan. 10 at Los Alamitos.
Nashville, Q B One and Uncle Chuck are what I call “milk carton” horses.
2-YEAR-OLD COLTS GENERATING EXCITEMENT
Even though Wit has yet to break alertly, he has crushed his opponents in both starts to date.
When debuting in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race on a wet track rated good June 5 at Belmont Park, Wit won by six lengths. In the ensuing Grade III Sanford Stakes, a six-furlong affair again contested on a wet strip termed good July 17 at Saratoga, he was eight lengths in front at the finish.
In the Sanford, Wit succeeded in a race that Man o’ War lost.
Trained by new Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Wit recorded only a 70 Beyer Speed Figure at first asking. The Kentucky-bred Practical Joke colt improved substantially to a 90 in the Sanford.
Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert unveiled a colt with a bright future last Sunday at Del Mar when Murray won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race by 10 3/4 lengths.
Unlike Wit in his two races, Murray exited the starting gate quickly. Murray then was perfectly willing to cooperate with jockey Flavien Prat when Prat asked Murray to sit a couple of lengths off the fast pace. Highly regarded first-time starter Drink the Wind, backed down to 11-10 favoritism, zipped the opening quarter in :21.54.
Murray moved up readily to take the lead turning into the stretch, then drew off in the stretch. He received a 78 Beyer, but I think this figure does not do justice to Murray’s performance. To me, it’s a 78 plus. That’s because Murray was far from all out. Indeed, as noted in the Equibase race chart comments, Murray “powered away under hand urging in the final furlong and was geared down near the wire.” According to the chart, Murray “won handily,” a description that deserves credit for its accuracy.
If Prat had been interested in having Murray get the highest speed figure that he possibly could, I think the young colt definitely would have run a much higher Beyer than 78.
Remember, as noted earlier, Wit recorded only a 70 Beyer Speed Figure in his first race. Essential Quality logged just a 69 Beyer when he overcame a troubled trip to win a six-furlong maiden race at Churchill last year on Sept. 5 in his first career start. Murray’s 78 Beyer looks a lot better when put into that context.
Murray also gives every indication that he will excel going farther than 5 1/2 furlongs. In addition to drawing away in the lane last Sunday, he galloped out with gusto. And then there is Murray’s pedigree. He is a son of Street Sense and the Tiznow mare Now Now.
Talk about a 2-year-old bred to win a Breeders’ Cup race. Street Sense won the BC Juvenile in 2006. Tiznow won the BC Classic in 2000 and again in 2001. Tiznow still has the distinction of being the only two-time BC Classic winner.
I sure wish the tremendous writer Jim Murray were still alive. How much fun might he have had writing about Murray?
Another seemingly very talented 2-year-old in Southern California is Big City Lights, who worked four furlongs Tuesday in a bullet :46.80 at Del Mar. It was the fastest of 31 works at the distance.
Luis Mendez trains Big City Lights. The California-bred Mr. Big colt is two for two. Big City Lights kicked off his racing career with a runaway 12 1/2-length victory a 4 1/2-furlong maiden race May 2 at Santa Anita. As an encore, he took the six-furlong Fasig-Tipton Futurity by 7 1/4 lengths at that same venue on June 20.
Big City Lights recorded a 93 Beyer Speed Figure in his first race. It’s the biggest Beyer recorded by a 2-year-old male or female this year through July 27.
In his second race, Big City Lights recorded an 85 Beyer.
Big City Lights is expected to put his unblemished record on the line in Del Mar’s Grade II Best Pal Stakes at six furlongs on Aug. 7.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
In terms of this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, Althiqa is out and Hot Rod Charlie is in.
Althiqa drops out of the Top 10 after being No. 10 last week. Hot Rod Charlie, who was not in the Top 10 last week, takes Althiqa’s place at No. 10 this week.
Below is the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 327 Letruska (16)
2. 279 Maxfield (6)
3. 250 Domestic Spending (7)
3. 250 Silver State (3)
5. 215 Essential Quality (3)
6. 151 Knicks Go
7. 104 Mystic Guide (2)
8. 101 Gamine
9. 55 Mandaloun
10. 48 Hot Rod Charlie