SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- It remains to be seen if Rachel Alexandra will run in the $1 million Shadwell Travers here on Aug. 29, but it is becoming increasingly likely that her owner, Jess Jackson, and trainer, Steve Asmussen, will be in the race regardless.
Kensei continued his ascent in the 3-year-old division with a solid 2 1/4-length victory over Warrior's Reward in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. It was a neck back to Charitable Man, the 6-5 favorite, in third. Flat Bold finished fourth and was followed by Convocation and Saratoga Sinner.
The win came less than 10 minutes after the Asmussen-trained Soul Warrior upset Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. It came about 24 hours before Asmussen was to run Rachel Alexandra against the boys in the $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
Kensei's victory validated his 3 1/4-length win in last month's Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park. Saturday was his first start around two turns and at 1 1/8 miles, and despite racing keenly early on, he proved that it was no problem.
"If anything we were disappointed with the Derby Trial and the Woody Stephens," said Asmussen, referring to a pair sprint stakes defeats. "Since he stretched out he's definitely shown up, and I think he's a top-class horse."
The race did not unfold like many expected. Warrior's Reward, under Calvin Borel, broke on top and quickly assumed the front after a quarter in 23.46 seconds. Edgar Prado tried to take a hold of Kensei, but even under stout restraint, Kensei was attending the pace through a half-mile in 47.50 seconds and six furlongs in 1:11.55.
Around the far turn, Kensei poked a head in front while Warrior's Reward tried to battle him from along the inside. Prado twice looked over his right shoulder and waited until inside the three-sixteenths pole to ask for a final run from Kensei, who gave it him. Kensei covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.90 and returned $7.50.
"The horse had been a little sharper than he had been going into the Dwyer, and I thought he was little keen early," Asmussen said. "If anything, I think it's a great sign that he got him to settle a little bit off that and he still finished up so well. I think the racetrack's been playing very fast today and he obviously liked it."
Kensei did come back with blood coming from his left hind bandage, which Asmussen at first glance believes is superficial.
Ian Wilkes, the trainer of Warrior's Reward, said his horse was "second-best today."
"It's a tribute to Kensei," he said. "He beat us again. We'll look forward to the next step with him."
Wilkes said he still plans to run Warrior's Reward in the Travers.
* The pool for the late pick four was $834,279, easily surpassing the $500,000 the New York Racing Association has guaranteed for that wager each Saturday of the meet.