As the three-year-old thoroughbred season kicks into high gear this summer, we have the most compelling and confusing situation we've had in quite some time. If you add the Ohio Derby and Haskell into the mix along with of course the three Triple Crown Races, we have five different winners of these important 3YO Stakes. The longshot Derby winner Rich Strike looks like a non-factor at this point, but the other four winners are serious contenders going forward with plenty of racing still to come. Two of those four -- Early Voting (winner of the Preakness) and Tawny Port (winner of the Ohio Derby) -- are featured today in the Jim Dandy Stakes, a Grade 2 affair being contested as the ninth race on the card at Saratoga with an estimated post time of 5:37 pm.
Yes, it's disappointing that only five horses are showing up for the Dandy today, and at first blush it seems like only one of the horses, #1 Western River, doesn't doesn't belong here. So with that in mind, let's take a more detailed look at the four contenders:
#2, Epicenter: The Steve Asmussen trained son of Not This Time had the Kentucky Derby seemingly in hand turning for home before 80-1 longshot Rich Strike shocked everyone and overtook him. Epicenter then came back in the Preakness, which Rich Strike skipped, and ran second to Early Voting. And therein lies the rub with Epicenter. He seems to have a bad case of second-itis at this point and this is an awfully tough spot to try to break through, especially given that he hasn't been out since the Preakness. His best chance is to stay close to the lead and try to launch a bid turning for home, but at what should be pretty short odds it's probably best to take a wait-and-see approach with him.
#3, Tawny Port: There's no trainer hotter than Brad Cox right now as he showed again when Cyberknife won the Haskell last weekend at odds of 7-1. Cox has taken a different route with Tawny Port, a son of Pioneer of the Nile, that included the Lexington at Keeneland (which he won) only three weeks before the Ky Derby. Tawny Port's Derby effort was much better than his 7th place finish would suggest and he then came back in late June and took the Ohio Derby over White Abarrio and Classic Causeway, who romped in his next race gate to wire. Cox seems to know exactly what he's doing with Tawny Port, and Irad Ortiz -- who rode him to victory in the Ohio Derby -- will be back aboard today. The odds on Tawny Port should be decent as he may be a bit overlooked. He's a great win bet at anything 3-1 or higher.
#4, Early Voting: The Chad Brown-trained son of Gun Runner was ultra impressive in the Preakness after skipping the Derby, beating Epicenter by over a length. He may be the controlling speed here, and so if Early Voting gets loose on the lead, he could wire this field. You would prefer to see another race between the May 21 Preakness and this one, so if there's a knock on Early Voting, it's that he may not be in top condition here. But you still have to like his chances today at a price, with regular rider Jose Ortiz aboard (Irad's brother, who's been having a very good Saratoga meet). Like Tawny Port, Early Voting could offer some solid value.
#5, Zandon: He was the 'now' horse going into the first Saturday in May and he ran a huge race there, finishing third to Rich Strike and Epicenter. But the Chad Brown-trained son of Upstart hasn't been out since that race, and that's almost three months ago, so he may very well need this race to get back to top form. His last two workouts have been across the Saratoga dirt track that they're running on today, but the problem is that those workouts -- along with the ones he had at Belmont -- seem a little slow. The other problem is that Zandon figures to be far back in this race -- probably last on the backstretch -- and he may not have much pace to run into. Top jock Flavien Prat is back aboard for the ride, but at what figures to be a very short price, unless you're a big fan of this one, it's probably best to take a wait-and-see approach like Epicenter.