The Jim Dandy comes up as Race 9 on Saturday’s card at Saratoga Race Course. A small field of five is set to go to the post, featuring Preakness winner Early Voting, as well as Epicenter and Zandon who, respectively, are two of the more highly regarded colts in this year’s 3-year-old division.
Tawny Port, winner of the Ohio Derby last time out for Brad Cox and Western River, the Rudolph Brisset trainee coming off an allowance win at Churchill Downs last month, round out the field.
The Jim Dandy is my favorite race of the summer. That’s right. This $600,000 Grade 2 that generally boasts a smallish field is my highlight of the Saratoga meet. Why? Let me explain.
I fancy myself as more of a fan of the sport than a handicapper. Sure, I can hang with any horseplayer out there (I think) but my main interest in horse racing comes from following the storylines throughout the year.
The Kentucky Derby is the marquee event on the calendar. The Jim Dandy then is usually the first opportunity I get to see some Derby runners live. That’s why it’s exciting to me. It’s also far less crowded at the track on a random Saturday evening in late July than it is on Travers Day. I can be along the walking path to the paddock and on the rail for the race without issue.
Those are two reasons it’s my favorite race of the summer. The third is that my favorite horse of all time is 2013 Jim Dandy winner Palace Malice. I was all over him in the Belmont that year and made one of my biggest scores. My fandom is easily swayed by cashing tickets.
I’ll argue that he ran the best race in the Travers a month later, but just couldn’t get it done. That seems to be the case more often than not in recent years.
Essential Quality pulled off the Jim Dandy-Travers double last year, but prior to that you’d have to go back to Alpha in 2012. If you recall, that was the dead heat with Golden Ticket. Will Take Charge finished second to Palace Malice in the 2013 Jim Dandy then went on to win the Travers a month later.
I told a gentleman outside the bathroom that morning that Will Take Charge had no shot in the Travers that day. I was wrong and I doubt he listened to me, so I hope he cashed some tickets.
There hasn’t been much in the way of Travers winners in the last 10 years coming out of the Jim Dandy aside from Essential Quality and Alpha. I guess 20% is a decent enough strike rate, but horses coming from out of town have fared a bit better in the last decade.
Stay Thirsty won both in 2011, as did Street Sense, Bernadini, and Flower Alley in 2007, 2006, and 2005 respectively.
The Haskell at Monmouth Park competes with, and generally beats, the Jim Dandy for quality starters looking for a timely prep for the Travers. It’s worth more money at $1,000,000 and offers Grade 1 status. It typically boasts a deeper field for those two reasons alone. Throw in an extra week of rest leading into the summer’s premiere event for 3-year-olds on dirt and the Haskell is most owner’s and trainer’s pick.
However, you have to go all the way back to Point Given in 2001 to find a Haskell winner that’s then shipped north to Saratoga and won the Travers.
What does this all mean? Probably nothing. I find historical data like this to be more interesting than an actual betting angle. This year’s Jim Dandy features a strong field of five. The Travers field is projected to be one of the more competitive fields we’ve seen in a while, so toss the Jim Dandy and Haskell runners at your own risk come late August.
Photo: Early Voting, one of the leading contenders in the Jim Dandy (Janet Garaguso)