There's Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and then there's everyone else.
That's how the lineup appears at first glance for the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes to be run July 27 at Saratoga Race Course. Nine other sophomores -- including Mylute, Code West, and Vyjack -- entered the 1 ⅛-mile challenge which leads to the Aug. 24 Travers Stakes, but with his fellow Triple Crown classic winners out of the mix the Belmont victor towers over them.
Orb, who took the Kentucky Derby before running fourth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont, is pointing directly for the Travers. Preakness winner Oxbow will start in the July 28 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park after running second in the Belmont.
Palace Malice, Dogwood Stable's son of Curlin , has been progressing toward this goal without incident at Saratoga since his 3 ¼-length victory in the June 8 Belmont for trainer Todd Pletcher. He last clocked four furlongs in :49.77 July 21.
"I think we need a bridge from the Belmont to the Travers, and this is a good place to do it," Pletcher said. "The Jim Dandy on its own is a very significant race, and we're not [just] using it as a prep. We're hoping to run well here and move forward to the Travers."
The Jim Dandy, race 10 on Saturday's 11-race card, will be telecast from 5-6 p.m. EDT along with the $600,000 Diana as the first of the NBC Sports Group's "Summer at Saratoga" series.
Rather than having taken anything out of the colt, Pletcher thinks the Derby and the Belmont starts worked in Palace Malice's favor.
"I think he's blossomed out of it," said Pletcher, who sent Palace Malice to his maiden-breaking score at the Spa last year. "He's a May foal, so he's starting to come into his own. He's gained weight, and he's gotten stronger. If anything, I think the Derby and the Belmont have propelled him forward."
Of prime interest in this spot are Code West and Mylute, two runners who have taken separate routes to Saratoga.
Code West won the 1 1/16-mile Matt Winn at Churchill Downs June 15 for Gary and Mary West and Hall of Fame horseman Bob Baffert, getting the best of Uncaptured by a head after surging back in a ding-dong battle down the stretch. The Lemon Drop Kid ridgling was a 6 ¾-length allowance winner going the same distance May 18 at Pimlico Race Course, and actually passed Palace Malice earlier in the year when finishing second by a nose to 135-1 shot Ive Struck a Nerve in the Risen Star Stakes.
Baffert breezed Code West at Churchill the week of the Derby, but opted not to run him in that spot after a sixth-place finish in the Louisiana Derby, his only start at 1 ⅛ miles. Instead, the ridgling ran second by a neck in a May 4 optional claimer going 1 1/6 miles at the Louisville oval before stringing together back-to-back wins.
"After his last race at Churchill Downs, we thought he deserved a chance to find out if he can step it up," Baffert said. "Hopefully, if he runs well here, he'll go on to the Travers."
Code West has been back at Baffert's home base in Southern California, where he went a bullet four furlongs in :46 flat on July 21, best of 59 at the distance on the day. Joel Rosario gets the mount from post 2 aboard the California shipper, who carries 119.
Mylute ran in the Derby after finishing second by a neck to Revolutionary with a strong six-wide rally in the 1 ⅛-mile Louisiana Derby. He finished fifth for Goldmark Farm and Whisper Hill Farm after being steadied early, and was back only 3 ¾ lengths. In the Preakness, the Midnight Lute colt closed with a seven-wide bid and wound up third, finishing in front of Orb and just 2 ¼ lengths back with Itsmyluckyday in second. Trainer Tom Amoss will give a leg up to regular rider Rosie Napravnik, who is part of a 117-pound impost from the 8 hole.
"He's been doing really well since he's been here, almost two weeks," Amoss said of the 7-2 second choice on the morning line. "There will be some pace in the race, from what we can tell."
An also-ran in the Derby and Belmont, Pick Six Racing's Vyjack looks to return to the form that saw him notch solid victories in the Jerome and Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack earlier this season. The Into Mischief gelding was third by just a length in the Wood Memorial, but ran 18th in the Derby and eighth in the Belmont for trainer Rudy Rodriguez. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez gets the mount from the far outside; Vyjack will carry 121 in the field of 10.
Southern Equine Stable's Moreno makes an intriguing addition and could figure strongly in the second half of the sophomore season if he lives up to his recent performance. The Ghostzapper gelding took nine starts to find the winner's circle for trainer Eric Guillot, then won the July 6 Dwyer Stakes by seven lengths going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont Park -- this off a 6 ¼-length maiden win on June 8 at a mile on a muddy track.
West Point Thoroughbreds and St. Elias Stable's Freedom Child tries to rebound from a poor Belmont Stakes performance. The Malibu Moon colt displaced his palate and finished 13th of 14. One start prior, he won the 1 ⅛-mile Peter Pan Stakes in the slop by a dominant 13 lengths for trainer Tom Albertrani.
"As well as he ran in the Peter Pan, if he comes back and runs that similar race, he's going to be right back where he was," Albertrani said. "I can't make much out of the Belmont, really. I'm not going to discredit him off of that race. The way he's been working since he came back from the Belmont, I've got a lot of confidence in the horse."
With Oxbow headed to New Jersey, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will have Willis Horton's Will Take Charge run at the Spa. The Unbridled's Song colt, who is out of multiple Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, finished 10th in the Belmont, seventh in the Preakness, and eighth in the Derby after winning the Rebel Stakes by a head over Oxbow at Oaklawn Park.
Completing the field are June 29 Iowa Derby winner Looking Cool for Jim Tafel and Hall of Fame trainer Carl Nafzger, Shadwell Stable's allowance winner Bashaar, third in the Iowa Derby for conditioner Danny Peitz, and Charles Fipke's recent allowance winner Perfect Title, making his stakes debut for trainer Dallas Stewart.