Vanderbilt Handicap & Jim Dandy Odds & Preview

Big names are on parade at Saratoga on Saturday, with Preakness one-two Early Voting and Epicenter renewing rivalry – along with Kentucky Derby third Zandon – in a gripping renewal of the G2 Jim Dandy, the traditional prep for the G1 Travers. Elsewhere, the G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap looks at the mercy of the brilliant champion sprinter Jackie’s Warrior.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap

Grade 1, $350,000, 6f, 3yo+

Objectively, this is not a race so much as another opportunity to watch Jackie’s Warrior tear up the track in another thrilling demonstration of speed and class, as without last year’s champion sprinter in the field the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap would be no better than stakes level.

Jackie’s Warrior is 11-for-15 lifetime, three-for-three in 2022, a four-time G1 winner, unbeaten in four starts at Saratoga, and so far clear of his rivals on every metric that it is impossible to make a case for him being beaten unless his gate doesn’t open. Last time out he won the G2 True North at Belmont Park by five lengths, before that he took down the G1 Churchill Downs by four, with Long Range Toddy beaten 12 and a half lengths into sixth.

He goes to the front and stays there, and because bettors may only get ten cents on the dollar the real puzzle is finding a horse for the exacta.

The aforementioned Long Range Toddy hasn’t won since May 2019, but his runner-up spot in the G3 Commonwealth at Keeneland in April reads well in the context of this secondary competition. NY Traffic has proved over and over again that he can’t win at Graded level – zero-for-ten – but he has won his last three in stakes company and has a dash of class.

Kneedeepinsnow is also in fair form and his third in a Churchill Downs stakes behind Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Aloha West isn’t to be sniffed at. He has plenty of early foot too. Willy Boi made his Graded-stakes breakthrough in the G3 Smile Sprint at Gulfstream Park this month and is another to consider, but Doc Amster has never indicated that he’s anything better than an allowance horse.

Vanderbilt Handicap Prediction

JACKIE’S WARRIOR for the win, but the challenge is finding one for the exacta. Maybe the in-form G3 winner Willy Boi can be the best of the rest.

Vanderbilt Handicap Odds

KneedeepinsnowRicardo Santana, Jr.+1200
Willy BoiChantal Sutherland+800
Ny TrafficIrad Ortiz, Jr.+600
Jackie’s WarriorJoel Rosario-500
Long Range ToddyLuis Saez+1500
Doc AmsterJavier Castellano+2000

Jim Dandy Stakes

Grade 2, $600,000, 1m 1f, 3yo

There’s a G1 on the card but the Jim Dandy is the undoubted highlight at Saratoga on Saturday, a proper heavyweight contest filled with big hitters who lit up the spring and will now hopefully do the same for summer.

Where to start? With a Triple Crown race winner, the Preakness hero Early Voting, who justified his omission from the Kentucky Derby with a dominant victory at Pimlico, parlaying his early speed into a solid finish that took him across the line a length and a quarter clear of the favorite Epicenter, whose cards were torn up by a slow start and then a trip that jockey Joel Rosario would definitely like to do over.

Early Voting was clearly best on the day, though, and as that was just his fourth start there’s almost a guarantee of further improvement in store as he gains experience.

He works well on the lead, he went gate-to-wire in the G3 Withers and would have done the same in the G2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct but for future Belmont winner Mo Donegal nailing him late, we could be in for a speed duel.

That’s because Epicenter likes to go forward too. He wired the G2 Risen Star and pressed the pace hard when winning the G2 Louisiana Derby at the Fair Grounds, and he was the only pace angle who survived the killing first quarter of the Kentucky Derby and kept running.

He had the Derby won at the sixteenth pole until boxcar longshot Rich Strike sandbagged him in the last strides, and he’s unlucky he doesn’t already have a G1 on his resume.

It might be that he comes here and blows them away – he has the class, and was rallying hard from a lost cause at the end of the Preakness – but if he and Early Voting get in a fight on the front end it’ll set things up for a closer to run right by them.

There are few tougher cookies out there than Zandon, who has twice finished third behind Epicenter. He got too far back before coming on strong through the stretch in the Risen Star and then threw down a persistent challenge in the Kentucky Derby that made Epicenter – and then Rich Strike – pull out all the stops to turn him back.

In between, he made a huge mid-race move in the G1 Blue Grass at Keeneland to lead in mid-stretch and then draw right off, and this race could be run to suit him.

One caveat would be that Zandon is a powerful stayer – this mile-eighth is his minimum – and if he ends up too far off the early speed he could do all his running too late. Like his barn mate Early Voting, he is lightly raced and there’s probably more to come.

Kentucky Derby seventh Tawny Port also raced a long way from the pace before finishing off his race well, although obviously not as well as Epicenter or Zandon, who had also finished in front of him in the Risen Star. He was the second-longest shot on the tote board at Churchill Downs but reinforced the notion that it was a strong Derby when running a career-best to win the G3 Ohio Derby at Thistledown next time out.

The form may not be anything to crow about, as runner-up White Abarrio was lost with all hands in the Haskell last week, but Tawny Port has always been underestimated and could still be moving up, although he needs another career-best if he is to get the better of Epicenter and Zandon at the third attempt.

Churchill Downs allowance winner Western River, a distant fourth in the G3 Peter Pan at Belmont Park, is also entered in a stakes on Friday and would do well to take that ticket, as he has very little chance in this company.

Jim Dandy Stakes Prediction

There are three potential top-notchers here, and perhaps the progressive Preakness winner EARLY VOTING can again get the better of speed rival Epicenter.

Jim Dandy Stakes Odds

Western RiverRicardo Santana, Jr+2000
EpicenterJoel Rosario+150
Tawny PortIrad Ortiz, Jr.+800
Early VotingJose L. Ortiz+160
ZandonFlavien Prat+200

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