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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – The older sprinters get going on Saturday at Saratoga in the $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), which drew a competitive field of 9 runners.
Sharing the card is the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and Bowling Green Stakes (G2), which should provide us with several memorable events. The Vanderbilt is set for race 7 with a local post time of 5:03 PM.
Headlining the field is the Saffie Joseph Jr. trainee Mischevious Alex, who cuts back in distance after a third-place effort in the Met Mile (G1). Before that loss, the colt had won 3 in a row including the Carter Handicap (G1) at Aqueduct 2 starts back. He’ll break from post 2 for this latest challenge with Irad Ortiz Jr. back aboard.
“He is training for this as well as he did for the Carter,” said Joseph Jr. “I thought he had a real good work here a couple weeks back. He’s going over with a really good chance. I think 6 to 7 (furlongs) is his best distance. This race is 6 and the next one will be 7 (the Forego [G1] on August 28). I think that’s most suitable.”
The hard-knocking Firenze Fire is back another try at Saratoga, a track where over which he’s struggled in the past. He won 2 of 3 starts this season, with both wins coming at Belmont Park, where he runs his best races. Jose Ortiz will jump back in the irons and break right next to his brother in post 3.
“He’s on his game and doing well,” said owner Ron Lombardi. “After that last race, he came back to the barn that night and felt like he didn’t even run. He went for a jog the next morning. At this level, they’re all tough races, but he’s doing great.”
Another hard-knocking old-timer entered is Whitmore, who’s still searching for his first victory of 2021. He ended last year with an incredible victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), which was a delight to see after several close finishes in that race throughout his career. He’ll break from post 6 with Ricardo Santana Jr. up for the ride once again.
“His record says he’s 0-for-3 this year, but he’s 3-for-3 in effort,” trainer and co-owner Ron Moquett said. “All we can ask is for him to try. Are there some things that may have resulted in a better outcome? Probably. But at the same time, he brought his A game. You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. It’s all about bringing the effort.”
The full field from the rail out: Lexitonian, Mischevious Alex, Firenze Fire, Strike Power, Three Technique, Whitmore, Miles Ahead, Montauk Traffic, and Special Reserve.
Jim Dandy Preview: Will the Graveyard of Champions Claim Another Victim?
#2 Mischevious Alex – Since moving to the Saffie Joseph Jr. barn, this horse has been extremely good, winning 3 of 4 races while dominating his competition in races under a mile. Last time out, he was third in the Met Mile (G1), but you could tell it was just a bit too far for him. Cutting back to 6 furlongs should make him ultra-tough to defeat, especially with regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr. back aboard.
#9 Special Reserve – I almost made this horse my top choice but just had too much respect for Mischevious Alex going this distance, so I couldn’t pull the trigger. You’ve gotta use Special Reserve, though, after solid efforts in his last 2 starts while never running poorly since Mike Maker claimed him. I realize it was “only” Prairie Meadows, but he ran a tremendously impressive race there last time out, taking home the Iowa Sprint Stakes with ease.
#6 Whitmore – It’s pretty disappointing that last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) champion hasn’t won yet this year, but he’s run 3 “winning races.” At his home track at Oaklawn, he battle toe to toe with C Z Rocket twice, narrowly losing in both efforts. Last time out, he looked like a winner in mid-stretch during the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) but flattened late and settled for third. He’ll be a player once again while coming off of a freshening, which makes him even more dangerous.
#3 Firenze Fire – He’s been running better than ever this season, which gives him a shot at picking up his first Saratoga victory. While he dominates at Belmont Park, he does struggle up here, but it’s a positive that he gets back to his preferred distance of 6 furlongs. Now is the time for him to pick up a win up here; however, he faces a pretty tough test.
#5 Three Technique – His best race gives him a chance to hit the board at what should be a decent price. He’s been facing some tough runners as of late, and while he hasn’t beaten them, he hasn’t been embarrassed, either. He’ll drop back and do his best running in the later stages of the race, so hopefully he catches a bit of pace to run into down the lane.
Bing Crosby Preview: C Z Rocket Back Out West
#7 Miles Ahead – This horse ships in from Florida where he’s been hot recently, including winning the Smile Sprint Stakes (G3) by a 1/2-length. He’s finished first or second in 5 straight efforts and lures Luis Saez, who is having a tremendous Saratoga meet. He can be looked at as the “new shooter” in this group who could get ignored at the windows, making him an intriguing play.
#4 Strike Power – We know he’ll flash early speed, but he’s had trouble holding that speed the length of the stretch, and this race’s setup won’t be kind to him. With other speed horses signed on to run, it will be a difficult task to take this field gate to wire.
#8 Montauk Traffic – This horse takes a big step up in class after defeating allowance foes at Belmont Park. He won 2 of his last 3 starts, which is good, but he also lost to Three Technique during that period.
#1 Lexitonian – He’s had his moments where he nearly pulled off big upsets, but those are few and far between. It looks like he’s a bit overmatched in this spot and will need a pace meltdown to have a chance.
“He has so much heart. He’s never a flashy work horse or in running,” trainer Jack Sisterson said. “He may come off the bridle, but whoever is riding him knows he responds to pressure and that’s just the way he likes to be ridden. Ideally, his best running style is being forwardly placed in a dog fight. He really shows his true colors when asked to be set down and that’s how he’ll be ridden. He’ll be forwardly placed. We’ll be aggressive out of the gate and put him in the race and see who wants to come and catch us.”
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