amNY at the Track: A ‘Jim Dandy’ of a Travers Stakes prep this weekend at Saratoga

Early Voting set to run in the Jim Dandy Stakes
Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting, who won the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack in February, will likely be favored to win the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday.
NYRA/Susie Raisher

Fields for stakes races on the New York racing circuit have been on the small side of late, and this Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga is no exception — with a compact field of five runners who also happen to be some of the best three-year-olds in training today.

Leading the field is trainer Chad Brown’s dynamic duo of Early Voting, the Preakness Stakes winner returning off a nearly three-month layoff; and Zandon, the Blue Grass Stakes champion who finished third behind Rich Strike and Epicenter in the Kentucky Derby.

Epicenter, too, is part of the Jim Dandy field, and he’s looking for some solid footing again under the guidance of trainer Steve Asmussen. The Louisiana Derby winner and Kentucky Derby favorite looked home free in the Churchill Downs stretch on the first Saturday in May, only to be overcome short of the wire by 81-1 longshot Rich Strike in one of the biggest derby upsets of all time.

Rounding out the field are Ohio Derby winner Tawny Port, trained by Brad Cox; and Western River, the Rodolphe Brisset-trained colt who’s still looking to notch his first graded-stakes victory.

The winner of Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes will likely stamp themselves as the favorite in Saratoga’s Travers Stakes next month. Regardless of the outcome, the Jim Dandy Stakes might produce several runners in the “Midsummer Derby,” which will play a key role in determining this year’s three-year-old champion.

The Jim Dandy Stakes

Saturday, July 30
Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga, NY
Purse: $600,000
Distance: 1 1/8 Miles
Conditions: Three-year-old colts and geldings
Post time: 5:37 p.m. ET 
Television: FS1

The field

Odds via Horse Racing Nation

Analysis and picks

As we said, it’s a compact field, but a solid one. Four of the five runners have a legit shot at winning this race (sorry, Western River, you’re outclassed in this field).

Tawny Port continues to be a horse on the improve. He’s reached the winners circle in two of his last three starts, the Lexington Stakes and the Ohio Derby, the latter of which was easily his best showing under his newest jockey, Irad Ortiz Jr., who’s having a great Saratoga meet thus far.

He’ll be running up against familiar company this Saturday as well; Epicenter and Zandon ran against Tawny Port in the Risen Star Stakes in March and the Kentucky Derby, and they both finished well ahead of him each time.

Zandon ran his race in the Kentucky Derby, but flattened out in the stretch and couldn’t get by Epicenter or the eventual winner, Rich Strike. He’s a contender for the Jim Dandy, but there’s questions as to whether he could get the 1 1/4 Miles Travers later in August.

Epicenter was a tough-luck loser in the Kentucky Derby, and then got a horrendous trip two weeks later. Still, he fought hard to finish second to the winner, Early Voting — who should be a strong favorite to win the Jim Dandy this Saturday.

Early Voting has improved in every start, and his Preakness performance was the best around two turns for any three-year-old so far this year. As the only real front runner in the race, he should have the pace his own way under jockey Jose Ortiz Jr.

Expect Early Voting and Epicenter to lead the field around the circuit. The homestretch will be pivotal; we know Early Voting will have plenty in the tank down the lane, but will Epicenter finally unleash a big run that’ll be enough to catch him?

And despite his early failures on the Triple Crown trail, don’t sleep on Tawny Port in the Jim Dandy; he could surprise them both. He’s an intriguing option as a longshot bet, and in exacta boxes with Early Voting and Epicenter. (Last week’s longshot pick, Cyberknife, went on to win the Haskell Stakes at 7-1 odds.) 

Our picks: Early Voting, Epicenter, Tawny Port