Saratoga Stakes To Shape Travers

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TwinSpires Staff

July 28th, 2016


Monmouth’s gain became Saratoga’s loss when trainer Keith Desormeaux made a surprise announcement on Wednesday that Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator would enter the Haskell Invitational Stakes in New Jersey rather than the Jim Dandy Stakes in New York.

Either could have served as a prep for the $1.25-million Travers Stakes on August 27 at Saratoga Race Course, which Desormeaux called "the ultimate goal," but the trainer's move makes the Haskell a rematch between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners whereas the Jim Dandy could have featured the Preakness and Belmont Stakes winners. The Haskell purse is also $400,000 more than the Jim Dandy and features a $50,000 participation bonus for the connections of classic winners.

And while Exaggerator’s defection steals some of the luster from the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy, the race remains a showdown between the top two finishers in the Belmont Stakes—this time without the rabbit that arguably enabled Creator to nose out Destin on June 11. Creator’s inside post should have little effect on his closing run; Destin’s front-running style is well-suited to his breaking from post 4, and he’ll need to maintain his speed for three fewer furlongs than he did in the Belmont. Will he have to tangle up front with Laoban, the horse that trainer Eric Guillot seems determined to see break his maiden in a graded stakes race, even though that tactic hasn’t worked in six consecutive attempts?

The Jim Dandy also sees the return of Mohaymen, off since finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby. His early favoritism in that race was eliminated by a poor finish behind champion and eventual Derby winner Nyquist in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in April. A $2.2 million yearling purchase, Mohaymen was undefeated heading into that Gulfstream race, but two consecutive unplaced finishes in the Florida and Kentucky Derbys give him a sort of “out of sight, out of mind” vibe. Does he get himself back in the three-year-old picture on Saturday?

Saratoga also showcases three-year-olds in the ungraded Curlin Stakes on Friday, which drew a field of eight, compared to the Jim Dandy’s six. The lightly raced, at one time highly regarded Gift Box returns off a win in an allowance race following a six-month layoff and third-place finish in the Grade II Remsen (a race won by the aforementioned Mohaymen). He’s trained by Chad Brown, who also sends out Connect in his stakes debut.

Another moving into stakes company for the first time is Dolphus, a half-brother to Rachel Alexandra. The promising Swipe, who as a juvenile finished in the top three in six of seven starts (with a particular penchant for finishing second), tries to return to relevance in only his fourth start this year, two of them disappointing.

Two years ago Jimmy Jerkens’ VE Day was an upset winner of the Curlin and went on a month later to take the Grade I Travers Stakes, narrowly and improbably defeating the Jim Dandy winner and stablemate Wicked Strong. VE Day is the only Travers winner the Curlin has produced in its seven-year history.

On the other hand, the Travers winner has run in the Jim Dandy six times since 2006. Only two horses, Summer Bird and last year’s Pharoah-vanquisher Keen Ice, used the Haskell as a prep for Travers victory. If, as Keith Desormeaux said earlier this week, the Travers is the “real goal,” history is on the side of the Summer Place to Be, and not the Shore’s Greatest Stretch.