By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Belmont Stakes winner Essential Quality (Brad Cox/Luis Saez) bids to take his career tally to seven wins from eight starts in the Jim Dandy on Saturday at Saratoga, the major designated trial for the Travers Stakes on August 28.
Godolphin’s homebred son of Tapit is out to confirm his status as the nation’s leading three-year-old against five seemingly overmatched rivals – but presumably none of his connections will need reminding of Saratoga’s longstanding reputation as the ‘Graveyard of Champions’.
Only last weekend, Kentucky Oaks heroine Malathaat became the latest big name to suffer a shock defeat at the track, adding her name to a list already featuring the legendary likes of Man o’War, Gallant Fox (beaten by none other than Jim Dandy, a 100-1 shot), Secretariat, Rachel Alexandra and American Pharoah.
“I’m assuming he’ll be a short price on Saturday and when you’re a short price, there’s always pressure,” admitted Essential Quality’s trainer Brad Cox, speaking to the NYRA media team.
“It’s one of those things where you are excited about it, but you almost want to have things go your way and get it over it from a trainer’s view of it. I’m excited. There is pressure, but it’s good to be in position to have that pressure on you. It means you’re in a good spot.”
Worth $600,000, the Jim Dandy is the weekend’s most valuable race, although there is also G1 action at the New York track with the Alfred G Vanderbilt featuring Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Whitmore. Drain The Clock and Jackie’s Warrior, one-two in the G1 Woody Stephens on the Belmont undercard, resume rivalries in the G2 Amsterdam on Sunday.
• All quotes provided by NYRA media team
Shall we talk about it?
Saratoga: Jim Dandy G2 $600,000 1m1f, dirt, 3yo (10.39pm BST)
Dr. Jack: “He’s lightly raced, but he was able to break his maiden first time out and step up into an allowance. I thought he ran a respectable race in the Pegasus and certainly Mandaloun coming back to win the Haskell makes that look to be a good race. For his third start and his first try in a stakes, to be beaten a little more than two lengths to a horse like Mandaloun, who has been through a good series of Derby preps, it was a tall ask and he ran credibly.” Todd Pletcher
Essential Quality: “I think he looks like he put on weight. He looks great – I feel like he’s grown just in the short time he’s been here at Saratoga, from his muscle tone to his weight. Everything has been positive since he’s moved here. I think he really likes it here.“ Brad Cox
Keepmeinmind: “We may need a little pace to run and it looks like there’s a little bit there on paper, so we’ll see. I thought there were three or four that may be forwardly placed, so hopefully a couple of them decide to go ding-donging and give us a pace to run at.” Robertino Diodoro
Masqueparade: “Our horse is on the upswing, so if he keeps improving, he could be there or thereabouts. His last two races have been very good and he handled graded competition. The numbers are fine but stepping up to those proven competitors is more a test to me than running against the clock.” Al Stall
Weyburn: “I think the last race did him a lot of good. His only two-turn race before that was the Wood Memorial and there was a big gap from that race. He should get better with more seasoning. He’s got enough natural speed to where you can pretty much put him wherever you want. I just hope instead of running spotty like that, l just hope he runs a little more even all the way and still has it for the end.” Jimmy Jerkens
• Visit the NYRA Saratoga website