One of the most fascinating races taking place this week is the $500,000, Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes presented by DK Horse at Saratoga Race Course. Even though the 1 1/8-mile race has drawn only five entrants, it’s shaping up as an excellent betting race due to the extremely competitive nature of the compact field.
The Jim Dandy serves as an important steppingstone toward the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, which explains the elite level of talent in the entries. There’s reigning champion 2-year-old male #2 Forte, exiting a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets. There’s Grade 1 Arkansas Derby winner #5 Angel of Empire, who ran third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes winner #1 Disarm and Grade 3 Withers Stakes hero #3 Hit Show, who finished fourth and fifth in the Kentucky Derby, are other accomplished entrants in the field.
But here’s the problem: the four colts we just mentioned have all done their best work racing off the pace. Angel of Empire is a pure closer who finished a subpar fourth when sticking closer to the pace than usual in the Belmont Stakes. Hit Show employed tracking tactics when finishing in a dead-heat for fourth in the Belmont, but previously rallied from mid-pack or farther behind in six consecutive races. Forte rarely winds up closer than midfield in the early going and Disarm has never raced closer than third during the early stages of any of his seven starts.
So what does this mean? It means we could be looking at a repeat of the 2016 Jim Dandy, when Belmont Stakes 1-2 finishers Creator and Destin squared off against four-time Grade 2 winner Mohaymen. There wasn’t much speed in the six-horse field, and unheralded 27-1 longshot Laoban was able to lead all the way through slow fractions of :24.56, :49.07, and 1:12.46 to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths.
#4 Saudi Crown won’t offer anywhere near the same odds as Laoban, but he’s the only obvious speed horse entered in the 2023 Jim Dandy, and it’s easy to envision him springing a gate-to-wire surprise against his more accomplished rivals.
Conditioned by two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox, Saudi Crown opened his career with a pair of victories sprinting on the Kentucky circuit. He employed pace-tracking tactics to crush a Keeneland maiden special weight by 4 3/4 lengths, then led from start to finish to win a Churchill Downs allowance race by 1 3/4 lengths.
Saudi Crown subsequently stepped up in class and distance for the one-mile Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park and ran a tremendous race in defeat. After setting hot fractions of :22.47, :44.63, and 1:08.84, Saudi Crown battled on to finish second by a nose against Fort Bragg, with the third-place finisher 11 lengths behind.
The Dwyer was a fast race, with Saudi Crown earning a 104 Brisnet Speed Rating, and the gray colt still has upside for improvement. He figures to set a much slower pace in the Jim Dandy, allowing him to save energy for the homestretch. Throw in the fact he’ll be carrying only 118 pounds (six fewer than Forte and Angel of Empire) and Saudi Crown has every chance to steal this race on the front end.
Forte is a logical choice for second place. In the Belmont, he raced wide off a 10-week layoff and closed ground gamely down the homestretch to finish within 1 1/2 lengths of victory. He’d previously launched a determined late rally to win the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby presented by Hill 'n' Dale Farms at Xalapa over next-out Kentucky Derby winner Mage. The only question mark is the addition of blinkers; Forte hasn’t worn blinkers in any of his previous eight races, so it remains to be seen whether the blinkers will sharpen his focus as intended or set him back in an unforeseen way.
Disarm may have a chance to surprise for second place. The son of Gun Runner has long shown flashes of serious talent, including when rallying to finish second in a slow-paced edition of the Grade 2 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby. Fourth in the Kentucky Derby as a 27-1 longshot, Disarm produced a career-best performance in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs last month, again rallying into a slow pace to defeat next-out Grade 3 Indiana Derby winner Verifying by half a length.
The fact Disarm has run two of his best races while closing into slow fractions is encouraging, since the Jim Dandy seems likely to unfold in a similar manner. He earned a 104 Brisnet Speed Rating in the Matt Winn and figures to be gaining ground down the Saratoga homestretch.
So how should we bet the Jim Dandy? If you want to play on a small budget (say, $10), we recommend betting Saudi Crown over Forte and Disarm in the exacta. If you have more capital to spend (and want to aim for a bigger payoff), we suggest adding a trifecta using the same three runners.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$5 exacta: 4 with 1,2 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 10th race, $5 exacta: 4 with 1,2
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$10 exacta: 4 with 1,2 ($20)
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 10th race, $10 exacta: 4 with 1,2
$5 trifecta: 4 with 1,2 with 1,2 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Saratoga, 10th race, $5 trifecta: 4 with 1,2 with 1,2
Good luck and enjoy the race!
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