How to bet the Jim Dandy
by Dave Litfin
I like to consider myself a sane, rational-thinking person who's willing to consider different sides of an argument, a trait most handicappers tend to develop over time whether they like it or not.
Having said that, I can't see keying anyone other than Mohaymen (#3) in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. And I certainly can't see betting against him.
How do you stop a tidal wave? Heading into Saturday's 11-race card that also includes the Amsterdam (4th), the Bowling Green (7th) and the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (9th), Kiaran McLaughlin is partying like it's 2008, when he won the Spa training title with 17 winners. Amazingly, he is almost halfway to that total already with seven winners from 10 starters.
It's been 12 weeks since Mohaymen ran fourth in the Derby, and given the prevailing circumstances this seems like a big plus. The layoff was by design and everything from the barn is firing fresh. On opening day, Sentiero Italia won first out since the Breeders' Cup, and Takrees won off an absence of 82 days. On Sunday, Gap Year lit up the board at 20-1 first out since early April, and Farhaan won at almost 6-1 in his first start since Memorial Day weekend.
When asked about the four-time Grade 2 winner earlier this week, McLaughlin beamed like bad poker player holding pocket Aces. “Hopefully it doesn't rain at five o'clock on Saturday like it did the last two times he ran,” he said, referring to fourth-place finishes in the Florida Derby and the Kentucky Derby. Recall the track was officially “fast” at Churchill Downs but contained significant moisture from a squall that had rolled through beforehand.
The Jim Dandy can be a tricky read because it's a prep race – a $600,000 one, but a prep nonetheless. The Travers is obviously the ultimate goal for Mohaymen, just as it is for Creator (#1) and Destin (#4).
But the way the stable is going, I am taking it on faith that Mohaymen beats those two again provided he gets a fast track.
One additional caution: The Saratoga surface has so far been a haven for wide-rallying winners, with Songbird a notably memorable exception. To the extent the trend appears in place through Saturday's early races, I would be less confident about tossing Creator.
Whenever you have an opinion on Saturdays at Saratoga, a productive strategy involves using the key horse as a linchpin in multi-race exotics. Even when they are favored, payoffs can still be generous when surrounding events prove somewhat chaotic. Last Sunday's $2 late pick four paid $10,786 for those prescient enough to hook up two favorites – including Songbird – with price horses in two turf races that looked impossible on paper anyway.
This could be a case of deja vu. The Jim Dandy is the third leg of a late pick four that contains two more inscrutable-looking 12-horse turf races, as well as a very competitive renewal of the Vanderbilt.
Barring any 5 o'clock lightning, Mohaymen will make or break my day.