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2023 Jim Dandy Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Forte Faces Angel Of Empire In Travers Prep At Saratoga
Forte (Nicole Thomas / Coglianese Photos)

2023 Jim Dandy Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Forte Faces Angel Of Empire In Travers Prep At Saratoga

Aaron previews the 2023 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots. The Todd Pletcher-trained Forte – the morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby (G1) – faces off against the final Kentucky Derby top choice Angel of Empire in the local prep for the Travers Stakes (G1).

What horse sets himself up best for the “Mid-Summer Derby” on August 26? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

Reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forte will face a compact but talented field as he seeks to regain winning form for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher in Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy presented by DK Horse, a nine-furlong main track route for sophomores, at Saratoga Race Course.

The Jim Dandy is slated as Race 10 on Saturday’s 12-race program, which also features the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap in Race 8. First post is 12:40 p.m. Eastern. 

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Owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, Forte arrives from a closing runner-up effort to Arcangelo in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 10 at Belmont Park. He entered the 1 1/2-mile marathon from 10-week’s rest after scratching the morning of the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby due to a bruised foot, but shook off any signs of rust with a brave five-wide rally from sixth-of-9 to come up 1 1/2 lengths shy of victory in the “Test of the Champion.”

Prior to scratching from the Derby, Forte had been tabbed the morning-line favorite after a spring campaign that saw him notch wins in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby. As a juvenile, he won a trio of Grade 1s in the Spa’s Hopeful, and the Breeders’ Futurity and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland, awarding him with his Champion honors.

Pletcher praised Forte’s performance in the Belmont, noting the difficulty he overcame in racing at a marathon distance after an extended period away from the races.

“It was a frustrating spring and he ran terrific in the Belmont considering what he was up against,” said Pletcher, who is in pursuit of a record-extending seventh Jim Dandy triumph. “To me, he’s a deserving divisional leader, but he has to continue to win to hold that spot.”

The dark bay son of Violence logged his final breeze last Saturday in preparation for the Jim Dandy. He worked a half-mile in 50 seconds in company with graded stakes-winning stablemate Emmanuel, sporting blinkers which he will wear for the first time in the afternoon in Saturday’s test.

“It’s hard to think about making a change off multiple [good performances] in a row, but he’s always been a very intelligent colt and he’s gotten a little more complacent,” Pletcher said. “Everything comes so easily to him that he was maybe getting a little wise to it. We just needed him to get a little more focused.”

Forte boasts field-best earnings of $2,679,830 through a record of 8-6-1-0. Out of the multiple stakes-winning Blame mare Queen Caroline, Forte was purchased for $110,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and is a direct descendant of Reine-de-Course mare La Troienne.

Irad Ortiz, Jr. [124 pounds], the pilot in each of Forte’s lifetime starts, retains the mount from post 2.

Two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox brings a formidable trio of challengers in Grade 1-winner Angel of Empire [post 5, Flavien Prat, 124 pounds], graded stakes-winner Hit Show [post 3, Luis Saez, 120 pounds] and graded stakes-placed Saudi Crown [post 4, Florent Geroux, 118 pounds].

Albaugh Family Stables’ Angel of Empire was last seen finishing fourth in a dead heat with Hit Show in the Belmont Stakes, closing from seventh under Flavien Prat to reach the wire in tandem with his stablemate and finish 2 1/2 lengths behind Arcangelo. He entered the Belmont from a rallying third in the Kentucky Derby just 1 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Mage, and made the Derby starting gate with wins in the Grade 2 Risen Star at Fair Grounds Race Course and Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park.

Gary and Mary West’s Hit Show had a more prominent trip in the Belmont than Angel of Empire and kept on well down the lane to hold onto fourth after losing ground through the final turn. The son of Candy Ride won the Grade 3 Withers and finished second by a nose in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct Racetrack ahead of a game fifth-place effort in the Kentucky Derby.

Cox said he would like to use the Jim Dandy as a stepping stone to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 26 for both Hit Show and Angel of Empire, who each received a 99 Beyer Speed Figure for their Belmont Stakes efforts. Cox saddled Essential Quality to victory in the 2021 Jim Dandy en route to a neck triumph in the Travers.

“They both got big numbers in the Belmont and they’re both doing well,” said Cox. “This is a step towards trying to get to the Travers and we’re hoping we see enough from them to march forward to that. I’m very happy with both of them all year. Consistent, durable horses that have shown up every time.”

Cox noted the tenacity of Hit Show, pointing to the way he fought on in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont after putting in his bid for the lead.

“He just stayed on and I think we saw a little of that in the Derby, too,” said Cox. “We should get good trips with the short field and we’ll see how it works out.”

FMQ Stables’ Saudi Crown is the most lightly-raced of the Cox triad, entering from a gutsy runner-up effort to Fort Bragg in the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 1 at Belmont. The grey son of Always Dreaming set the tempo in the one-turn mile Dwyer with Fort Bragg stalking 2 1/2 lengths back before they matched strides in the stretch for a thrilling battle to the wire where Fort Bragg got his nose down first in a final time of 1:35.37. Saudi Crown was awarded a field-best 106 Beyer for the effort.

Saudi Crown, who won his first two outings by a combined 6 1/2 lengths at Keeneland and Churchill Downs, respectively, was purchased for $240,000 at the OBS Spring Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training. He is out of the unraced Tapit mare New Narration, whose second dam, New Normal, won the 2010 Grade 3 Natalma going one-mile over turf.

Completing the field is Winchell Thoroughbreds’ graded stakes-winner Disarm [post 1, Joel Rosario, 120 pounds] for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen. The bay colt enters from a determined half-length victory in the Grade 3 Matt Winn on June 11 at Ellis Park for his first graded victory on the heels of a fourth in the Kentucky Derby and on-the-board finishes in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds and Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland.

Asmussen said it was satisfying to see Disarm win the Matt Winn after quick back-to-back races when using the Lexington as a final push for a spot in the Derby starting gate.

“I think he needed the win,” Asmussen said. “We were chasing it a bit going into the Derby. I thought he needed to run in the Lexington for enough points and then there were so many defections late. But we regrouped and came with a win.”

Disarm looks to continue the run of remarkable success Asmussen has had with progeny of his 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, who won the Grade 1 Whitney and Woodward at the Spa and sired the Asmussen-trained Saratoga graded stakes-winners Gunite, Echo Zulu, and Wicked Halo in his first crop.

“He looks so similar to his father, who was third in the Derby and came back to win the Matt Winn,” said Asmussen. “Gun Runner was solid as could be as a 3-year-old and was Horse of the Year as a 4-year-old. We want to allow for that sort of development with Disarm as well. Echo Zulu and Gunite were very accomplished at two, and they are running faster at four. They’re faster now than they’ve ever been. As good as they are early, it’s comforting to know they keep getting faster.”

Asmussen holds Disarm in high regard and said the talented colt belongs in the same conversation as his Jim Dandy rivals, as well as the strong group that contested the Grade 1 Haskell last Saturday at Monmouth Park.

“He’s a very impressive physical horse,” said Asmussen. “From the Jim Dandy to the Haskell, there’s some extremely talented 3-year-olds and I think that he’s one of them.”