SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – All eyes were on Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands winner Always Dreaming and Preakness victor Cloud Computing when those two entered the starting gate for the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
And then along came Good Samaritan, making a stellar dirt debut.
After competing on turf through his first six starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott and converting those into two victories and $407,616 in purse money, the son of Harlan’s Holiday suggested his best shot at the green might be away from the green with an emphatic 4 3/4-length victory over Giuseppe the Great, the longest shot on the board.
Always Dreaming, despite setting comfortable fractions on the front end, wilted to third. Pavel, in only his second career start, menaced before taking fourth. Cloud Computing, after stalking Always Dreaming in second, backed up to last in the field of five.
Mott said Elliott Walden, part of the ownership group as the head of WinStar Farm, had been pushing for a surface change since the bay colt, from a Pulpit mare in Pull Dancer, came in third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last November.
“Bill is a team player and he understands our job is to make stallions and dirt stallions are worth more than turf stallions,” Walden said. “I just kept going back to the fact that he was a big, strong, two turn-looking horse that was by a dirt horse out of a dirt horse. There was no reason we shouldn’t try it at some point.”
Nature did not cooperate in time for any of the Triple Crown races.
“He went to the farm. He needed a little time,” Mott said. “He had a couple of months off and then he came back and it was too late for any of the important races. We made our first race on Derby day, but obviously it wasn’t the Kentucky Derby. We weren’t ready for that.”
Good Samaritan missed by a length to Arklow in the Grade 2 American Turf Stakes, part of the Kentucky Derby undercard. He then finished third in the Grade 2 Pennine Ridge and fourth in the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes. Finally, Mott agreed it was time to make the move that Walden had long been lobbying for.
“From the standpoint of Bill’s perspective, he’s a trainer. He wants to be comfortable with every decision that you’re going to be in the best position to win,” Walden said. “This was maybe not that, because there was some risk that he didn’t handle the dirt. We did have some dialogue back and forth.”
Todd Pletcher, who trains Always Dreaming, is sure to have some discussion regarding how to improve the fortunes of a colt that was so impressive in the Kentucky Derby before flopping with an eighth-place finish in the Preakness. He also lacked punch for regular rider John Velazquez in the Jim Dandy, intended as a steppingstone for the $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 26.
“Even though Johnny said the fractions were very reasonable and he pulled him off the rail a bit, he felt he never really dropped the bridle and relaxed for him,” said Pletcher, adding, “We just need to work on getting him to settle the first part.”
Javier Castellano thought he was in perfect position as he chased Always Dreaming in second with Cloud Computing. “I let Always Dreaming dictate the pace, so I was able to let up a little bit and save all the ground and, little by little, go for him,” Castellano said. “He just didn’t fire.”
The outcome allowed Mott to celebrate his 64th birthday in style. “Every one you hit is a good one,” he said.
Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap: El Deal made it 3-for-3 since he entered the barn of Jorge Navarro, and he did so with an exclamation point. The 5-year-old son of Munnings rolled on the front end to whip Awesome Banner by eight widening lengths with Castellano aboard. “I called the owners and said I thought it was time to see what we have and he proved it,” Navarro said.
Grade 2, $200,000 Amsterdam Stakes: Undefeated Coal Front looks to have an extremely bright future after he made a successful leap from the allowance ranks and prevailed for the third time in as many starts. His front-running effort allowed him to turn back Excitations by a comfortable length and a half for jockey John Velazquez in the 6 ½-furlong Amsterdam. Pletcher said he would consider the Grade 1, $500,000 Allen Jerkens Stakes (formerly the King's Bishop) as a possible next start for the Stay Thirsty colt.
“He’s a horse with a strong pedigree and enough talent to stretch out when the time is right,” Pletcher said.
Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green Stakes: It took 15 career starts, but longshot Hunter O'Riley rallied for his first graded stakes triumph, besting Bigger Picture by a neck. Trainer James Toner said he never lost confidence in the 4-year-old Tiz Wonderful ridgling.
“You’re going to get that breakout race and today was that breakout race, so we’re really excited,” he said.