Seven weeks after finishing behind Tonalist in the Belmont Stakes, Wicked Strong turned away a challenge from the Grade 1 winner down the stretch and spurted away to win the 51st renewal of the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Equipped with blinkers for the first time, Centennial Farms' Wicked Strong took the lead from pacesetting Legend on the far turn and never looked back to win the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy by 2 ¼ lengths in 1:49.16 over a fast main track.
Favored at 4-5 in the field of six, Tonalist stayed up for second by 3 ¾ lengths over late-running Kid Cruz. They were followed under the wire by Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, Ulanbator and Legend.
It was the second win in six starts this year for Wicked Strong, who captured the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial in April and followed up with consecutive fourth-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont.
“This is great. This is really great,” said winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens. “The way he works, I don't think Secretariat worked any better than this horse does in the morning. I know the talent's there. It's just getting him to put it all together.
“It was a different dimension today where he was up close to the pace, and he didn't get by [Legend] too easy. He had to run to get the best of him, and then Tonalist was right there. I think he showed a lot of class today.”
Wicked Strong returned $6.40 on a $2 win bet as the 2-1 second choice. The $360,000 winner's share of the purse pushed his career bankroll to $1,244,610.
It was the second victory in as many days for a Jerkens-trained 3-year-old, giving him a pair of options for the centerpiece of the Saratoga meet, the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 23. On Friday, V.E. Day won the $100,000 Curlin in his stakes debut, going the same 1 1/8 miles in 1:50.51.
“We're going to think that way, that's for sure,” Jerkens said of possibly running both colts in the Travers. “A big race like that, a mile and a quarter, you've got to try it. Tracks are different every day, but [V.E. Day] ran a second slower than Wicked Strong which isn't bad. He has improved in leaps and bounds with each race. Those kinds of horses usually have a lot of quality.”
Coming out of the Triple Crown, Jerkens decided to fit Wicked Strong with blinkers for the Jim Dandy. As a result, the bay Hard Spun colt was closer to the pace than in his previous races, hounding Legend through a quarter-mile in 24.45 seconds, a half in 47.73 and six furlongs in 1:11.36.
Jockey Rajiv Maragh moved Wicked Strong to the lead approaching the stretch as Legend began to tail off, and Tonalist launched his bid on the outside past the quarter pole. Tonalist took a run at Wicked Strong in mid-stretch but was outfinished to the wire.
“He kind of put it all together today and put on a good performance,” Maragh said. “He was very aggressive today, he put me in the race which I was happy about. Tonalist made a bold move and I thought, 'It's going to be a good horse race' from there, and Wicked Strong dug in and found extra and pulled away at the end.”
Jerkens worked Wicked Strong in blinkers once before the Jim Dandy and felt it had an impact on the result.
“It might be my imagination but he always seemed to be running with his head cocked to the outside in his other races,” said Jerkens. “I didn't really notice that today. I thought he ran straight and true.”
View the full Equibase chart here.
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