Group 7C Racing Stable’s Jesus’ Team, who has earned three placings in prestigious Grade 1 races, will return to stakes company on Friday as part of an eight-horse field of 4-year-olds and up who have not won a stakes other than state-bred in 2021 in the $120,000 Alydar contested at 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga Race Course.
The ninth edition of the Alydar, named for the 1989 Hall of Fame inductee who finished second to Affirmed in all three legs of the 1978 Triple Crown, will see Jesus’ Team return to the Spa for the first time since running third in last year’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy.
The Tapiture colt used that contest for sophomores as a prep for the 2020 Grade 1 Preakness, which was held in October last year, with Jesus’ Team finishing third in the final leg of the Triple Crown behind Authentic and winner Swiss Skydiver. Trainer Jose D’Angelo saw him build on that effort in a Classic to run second behind Knicks Go in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cut Dirt Mile in November at Keeneland, earning a 102 Beyer Speed Figure.
Jesus’ Team closed out his year with his first stakes win, capturing the Claiming Crown Jewel in December at Gulfstream going 1 1/8 miles. Returning to the same track and distance, Jesus’ Team again linked up with Knicks Go in his 2021 bow, again running second to his rival in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup Invitational in January that netted a 105 Beyer.
D’Angelo then shipped Jesus’ Team to the United Arab Emirates, where he ran sixth in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March. After a four-month freshening, he returned to run fifth on July 11 at Gulfstream, prompting D’Angelo to skip the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney on August 7 at Saratoga in favor of the Alydar.
“The last race, for sure, he needed,” D’Angelo said. “After quarantine coming back from Dubai, he lost a little weight. It was a little hard to [improve] his conditioning again. He needed that race to be the horse he is now. He’s bigger than his last race, and in that race, he was a little too close to the front. I think it helped him get him fit, though, and we’re looking forward to this race.”
Junior Alvarado will pick up the mount from post 7.
Two-time graded stakes-winner Core Beliefs returned of a nine-month layoff to run third in an optional claiming contest going 1 1/16 miles in June at Churchill Downs. Trainer Brian Lynch said the Quality Road bay needed that race after being given a freshening following a fifth-place finish in the Champions Day Marathon in September at Churchill Downs for then-trainer Scott Hansen.
“I think he ran well enough last out to give us the confidence to try him in a spot like this, because it was a credible effort off a long layoff,” Lynch said. “He’s trained on well enough to get a shot. This will be the second time off the bench and it’s at a distance that he really likes.”
Core Beliefs, owned by Gary Broad, won the 2018 Grade 3 Ohio Derby in a sophomore year that saw him run fourth in the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth and fifth in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. He then made his 2019 debut with a win in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap that March, which marked his last victory.
Running at Saratoga for the first time, Core Beliefs will be seeking his first victory in his last eight starts and enters after posting four workouts over the Saratoga main track in July.
“He’s doing well and has great energy, and for an older horse, he’s been very willing and trying hard in his works,” Lynch said. “I take that as a positive. He just acts like he’s in good form. He’s done so well since he’s been here and the weather has been a little bit cooler, and he seems to enjoy that. His appetite has been fantastic, too. We’re just hoping for good things.
Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will have the call from post 3.
Bruce Lunsford’s Art Collector, who like Jesus’ Team also competed in last year’s Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, will get his first opportunity to run at Saratoga and his first start for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. Art Collector commenced his 4-year-old year with a sixth-place finish in the Kelly’s Landing on June 25 at Churchill, marking his first race since running eighth in that Breeders’ Cup appearance seven months prior.
Art Collector, who ran fourth in the Preakness, finihed just a head back to Jesus’ Team to fall just short of black type in 1 3/16-mile Classic. The winner of the 2020 Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland will have the services of Luis Saez. on Friday, breaking from post 4.
Steve Landers Racing’s Night Ops, off three consecutive runner-up efforts in the Grade 3 Ben Ali, Blame and Grade 3 Monmouth Cup for reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, will make his Saratoga start in a well-traveled career.
Night Ops, who Manny Franco will ride out of post 8, has finished in the money in his last six starts, all against stakes competition, starting with a win in the 2020 Grade 3 Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows.
Bourbon Lane Stable’s Bourbon War will be running in a stakes for the first time since 2019, when as a 3-year-old he found success on the Triple Crown trail by running second in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth before finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, eighth in the Preakness and 10th in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Ian Wilkes took over the conditioning duties for Bourbon War’s 5-year-old campaign, which started with a strong second, by a neck, to Home Base in an optional claimer in May at Churchill before running third under similar conditions at the same track on June 26.
“He came off a long layoff and ran two good races; I thought he ran really respectable in putting two good ones together back-to-back,” Wilkes said. “I’m getting to know him and he’s getting to know me, so it’s all good there. The horse has been happy, so that’s the key. We’re hoping to make that next progression. He needs to step up and pick up his game a little more. I feel good for him.”
Bourbon War, a son of Tapit, will have Brian Hernandez, Jr. in the irons from post 6.
Prioritize, sixth in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 3 at Belmont, will return to a familiar track that’s near trainer H. James Bond’s base, as the Tizway gelding ran twice here last year, winning an optional claimer before running third in the Grade 1 Woodward. The now 6-year-old will have jockey Tyler Gaffalione aboard for the first time, departing post 1.
Math Wizard will enter off a six-month layoff in his first start since finishing sixth in the Pegasus World Cup. The Saffie Joseph, Jr. trainee will be racing for just the second time as a 5-year-old as he seeks his first victory since the 2019 Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby [Irad Ortiz, Jr., post 5].
Limonite ran third in the Grade 3 Excelsior going the Alydar distance on April 3 at Aqueduct and after two fifth-place efforts will return to the Spa for trainer Gustavo Rodriguez [Joel Rosario, post 2].
The Alydar, slated as Race 8 on the 10-race card, is one of three stakes on a stacked Friday card that will feature a 1:05 p.m. Eastern first post.
Saratoga Live will present daily television coverage of the 40-day summer meet on FOX Sports. For the complete Saratoga Live broadcast schedule, and additional programming information, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
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NYRA Press Release
Photo: Jesus’ Team in the post parade for the Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park. (Gulfstream Park/Coglianese)