Whether that was the cause or not Saratoga saw a 15 percent decrease in attendance on opening day from 2012’s. Attendance over the entire weekend was down 5,000 patrons from a year ago as well. On-track handle, NYRA’s ultimate barometer for how it performs, was down $1.4 million from a year ago, according to the Albany Business Journal.
Still, the horses and horseman plod on into the first full week of racing with Saratoga’s most notable Travers Stakes prep: The Grade II $600,000 Jim Dandy. The Jim Dandy runs 1 1/8th miles, going two turns around the track, giving its runners four weeks to consider their standing come Travers Day.
A field of 10 three-year-olds enters the gate Saturday with Palace Malice leading the pack. Palace Malice (Post 5, 5-2), a son of 2007 and 2008 Horse of the Year Curlin, won the Grade I $1 million Belmont Stakes back in June. Since his impressive win in that race, his trainer, Todd Pletcher, has been training up Palace Malice to this race here.
Palace Malice has been training beautifully at Saratoga going back to June 30. He has turned in two four-furlong workouts and two five-furlong workouts. On July 14, he put in a swift five-furlong breeze covering the distance in 1:00.32. On the 21st, he whipped through a half-mile in 49.77 as a maintenance work before the Jim Dandy.
“I thought he worked very well,” said Pletcher. “We were looking for a little easier work than he’s been getting and that was executed well, good gallop out, seems like he’s in good form.”
It appears the grueling 1 ½ miles of the Belmont did nothing but strengthen Palace Malice, a horse owned by Dogwood Stables.
“I think he’s done super since the Belmont,” said Pletcher. “If anything, he’s gotten bigger and stronger, and it seems like he took that race really well. He’s getting better all the time. He’s been really push-button. After the Belmont was the first time we breezed him by himself, and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but he seems to handle that really well. He was relaxed, but he picked it up when he needed to.”
Mike Smith, Hall of Fame jockey, will ship in for the mount and be the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.
Mylute (Post 8, 7-2), who finished a game fifth and third in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness respectively, makes his first start since the Preakness in the Jim Dandy. Rosie Napravnik will have the mount and Tom Amoss, Mylute’s trainer. He loves what he sees.
“He’s been doing really well since he’s been here, almost two weeks,” said Amoss. “It’s right in his backyard, and there will be some pace in the race, from what we can tell.”
Another interesting horse in the race is Freedom Child (Post 7, 4-1). He won the Grade II Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park back in May by an astounding 13 ¼ lengths. He was a wise-guy horse heading into the Belmont Stakes, but finished 13th.
Tom Albertrani, Freedom Child’s trainer, hopes to see him return to form with the hope that the dismal Belmont performance was just a fluke.
“As well as he ran in the Peter Pan, if he comes back and runs that similar race, he’s going to be right back where he was,” said Albertrani. “I can’t make much out of the Belmont, really. I’m not going to discredit him off of that race. The way he’s been working since he came back from the Belmont, I’ve got a lot of confidence in the horse.”
For Vyjack, who had earlier success on the New York circuit leading up to the Kentucky Derby by winning the Grade II Jerome and the Grade III Gotham, the question remains whether he peaked too soon or if he simply fatigued. His trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, sees a contender in this gelding.
“He had a nice open gallop [Sunday], so I think we should be in good shape,” Rodriguez said, who’s Vyjack breezed five furlongs in 1:00 flat on July 16. “I worked him a little bit before the Derby, I worked him a little bit before the Belmont, now I’m cutting back a little bit. I just wanted to change things up a little bit, maybe give him another couple days rest, and maybe he’ll give us a good race.”
Vyjack (Post 10, 12-1) comes off a Derby where he finished 18th out of 19 and a Belmont where he came home in eighth.
“If he shows up, I think he can compete with these horses,” Rodriguez said. “If he doesn’t, then we’ve got to regroup and maybe back off, give him two or three months on the farm and bring him back fresh. He’s a gelding, so we don’t need to squeeze everything out of him.”
Rounding out the field for the Jim Dandy are Bashaar (Post 1, 15-1), Code West (Post 2, 6-1), Will Take Charge (Post 3, 12-1), Moreno (Post 4, 10-1), Perfect Title (Post 6, 20-1) and Looking Cool (Post 9, 15-1).
Mechanicville native Brown goes big in Diana:
Chad Brown, last year’s runner-up to the training title and area-native, may saddle as many as three horses in the Grade I Diana Handicap for fillies and mares Saturday. The race runs a 1 1/8th miles on the turf and so happens to be the race where Brown won his first Grade 1, won by Zagora.
One of three big turfers is Dream Peace, a five-year-old mare who finished second in the Diana a year ago. Brown would like to see a yielding course, but if he doesn’t get the rain Dream Peace wants, he’ll have to make do with the firm going.
“She probably prefers some give in the ground, but it looks like it’s going to be dry the rest of the week,” said Brown. “I don’t know if we’ll get the give in the ground we’re looking for, but other than that it’s her third race of the year, so it will be her best race.”
His other horses are Samitar and Dayatthespa.