SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Chad Brown will look to continue his rocket start at the Saratoga Race Course summer meet when saddling Grade 1-winners Early Voting and Zandon for Saturday’s 59th renewal of the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy for 3-year-olds going nine furlongs on the main track.
The Jim Dandy is the traditional local prep for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, to be run on August 27. A total of 11 horses have swept both races, including Essential Quality last year en route to Eclipse Honors for Champion 3-Year-Old. Other prominent winners of the Jim Dandy and Travers include Hall of Famer Arts and Letters  as well as Medaglia d’Oro , Bernardini  and Street Sense .
A winner of 3-of-4 lifetime starts, Early Voting arrives off a victory in the Grade 1 Preakness on May 21 at Pimlico Race Course, where he provided Brown and owner Klaravich Stables [Seth Klarman] with their second win in the middle leg of the Triple Crown.
The son of leading second-crop sire Gun Runner made his first three career starts at Aqueduct Racetrack, including a debut win in December followed by a victory in the Grade 3 Withers on February 5, where he defeated Un Ojo, a next-out winner of the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park.
Following a game runner-up effort to eventual Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets winner Mo Donegal in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino, Early Voting bypassed the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby in favor of the Preakness.
Away alertly from the gate in the Preakness, Early Voting stalked the pace from second down the backstretch and matched strides with pacesetter Armagnac around the far turn. An open-lengths leader at the top of the stretch, Early Voting held off a late inside rally from returning rival Epicenter to win by 1 1/4 lengths, producing a field-best 105 Beyer Speed Figure.
“There was plenty of discussion [to run in the Kentucky Derby], but ultimately it looks like we made the right call to point to the Preakness,” Brown said.
Jeff Drown’s Zandon arrives off nearly three-month’s rest from a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs. The dark bay or brown son of third crop sire Upstart was placed toward the rear of the field down the backstretch of the ‘Run for the Roses’ making up considerable ground and battling to the outside of Epicenter down the stretch. But neither horse was able to fend off the inside rally from 80-1 upset winner Rich Strike.
Like his stable mate, Zandon also was a winner at first asking, capturing a six-furlong maiden special weight in October en route to a narrow second in the Grade 2 Remsen two months later at Aqueduct.
Commencing his sophomore season with a troubled third in the Grade 2 Risen Star in February at Fair Grounds Race Course, he made amends with a breakthrough victory in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 9 at Keeneland en route to rounding out the Kentucky Derby trifecta.
“He’s a pretty consistent horse and time has really done this horse well since the Derby,” Brown said. “We did the right thing for him. I love the way he’s training. He’s put some weight on and I expect him to run well Saturday.”
Brown believes both Zandon and Early Voting are amongst the highest echelon of 3-year-olds in what appears to be a strong crop.
“I really believe that they both have established themselves for quite some time now to be two of the top-five 3-year-old dirt colts in the country pretty consistently throughout most of the year,” Brown said. “The order might change around those top five and the fifth horse that’s in that group might change a little bit, but they’re consistently in that group. We’re at the midway marker, so there’s a lot more racing to take place and these horses are going to have to continue to maintain strong campaigns to stay in that group.”
Early Voting will be piloted by returning rider and two-time Jim Dandy winner Jose Ortiz from post 4, while Flavien Prat will guide Zandon for the third straight time from post 5. They will both carry a field co-high 124 pounds.
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Epicenter arrives at the Jim Dandy with vengeance following a close second in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness as the post-time favorite. The bay son of leading third crop sire Not This Time closed from eighth position in both races.
After finishing three-quarters of a length shy of victory in the Kentucky Derby, Epicenter was a deep-closing second in the Preakness, finishing 1 1/4 lengths in arrears of Early Voting.
Boasting a record of 8-4-3-0 and field-best earnings in excess of $1.9 million, Epicenter defeated Zandon in the Risen Star before capturing the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at the New Orleans oval.
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the Jim Dandy with Kensei  and Tenfold , said he is hopeful that Saturday’s race will be a successful pipeline to the Travers for Epicenter.
“It’s his first run obviously back off the Derby and the Preakness, two hard races 14 days apart,” Asmussen said. “We’re using the Jim Dandy as a prep for the Travers, which is his goal. The Jim Dandy will be his first run at Saratoga and should set us up for the Travers.”
Joel Rosario will ride Epicenter from post 2.
Trainer Brad Cox will aim for his second straight Jim Dandy victory after campaigning last year’s winner Essential Quality when sending out dual graded stakes winner Tawny Port.
Owned by Peachtree Stable, the dark bay or brown son of Pioneerof the Nile defeated Grade 1 winner White Abarrio and next-out Grade 1 Caesars Belmont Derby Invitational winner Classic Causeway in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 25 at Thistledown. The one-length coup garnered a 90 Beyer and came seven weeks after finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby. He also captured the Grade 3 Lexington on April 16 at Keeneland.
Tawny Port commenced his career with a pair of victories over the all-weather surface at Turfway Park en route to a graded stakes caliber season.
“He’s improving. He’s been a horse that’s been a little late to get to the races. He didn’t make his debut until December,” Cox said. “He’s going the right way and he seems to be doing really well up here. He’s had three nice works and we’ll see how he stacks up against this very good group we’ll ask him to run against.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr. will ride from post 3.
Completing the field is dual winner Western River, who is cross-entered in Friday’s $135,000 Curlin for trainer Rodolphe Brisset. The son of Tapit and full-brother to 2016 Belmont Stakes winner Creator enters off a first-level allowance victory going the Belmont Stakes distance on June 18 at Churchill Downs.
A maiden winner at fifth asking, Western River’s lone stakes attempt came in the Grade 3 Peter Pan on May 14 over a sloppy and sealed main track at Belmont, where he finished fourth in a three-way photo for second.
Western River is owned by September Farm, Union Park Thoroughbreds, Black Fern, Michael Motley, Tammy Motley and Storyteller Racing.
Wester River will leave from post 1 under Ricardo Santana, Jr.
The Jim Dandy honors the infamous upset winner of the 1930 Travers, who captured the ‘Mid-Summer Derby’ at 100-1 odds against Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox and Whitney winner Whichone.
The Jim Dandy is slated as Race 9 on Saratoga’s 11-race program, which also features the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt in Race 8. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
Saratoga Press Release
Photo: Early Voting (Janet Garaguso)