By Gene Kershner
After a seven-week hiatus from the spotlight of the Triple Crown series, the 3-year-old colts take center stage this weekend at Saratoga and Monmouth for two key races that will have an impact on the 3-year-old championship.
At Saratoga, the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes will be run Saturday afternoon at 1-1/8 miles over the historic race track on national television. The second of a series of eight weekends will be televised on Versus from 5 to 6 p.m. along with the Grade 1 Diana Stakes.
The Jim Dandy was named for a horse that pulled off a major upset in the 1930 Travers at 100-1 over Triple Crown champion Gallant Fox in the slop during the Great Depression.
The Dandy has attracted seven colts and has typically served as the prep race to the Travers, the Saratoga meet's signature race. The field isn't as prestigious as the one drawn over on the Jersey Shore, but it doesn't mean one of the seven won't step up and challenge the Haskell winner (hopefully) in the Travers in late August.
The white hot Todd Pletcher will put Javier Castellano in the irons on 6-Stay Thirsty (5-2), who has been off since his second-place finish in the Belmont Stakes. Pletcher thinks his colt is still maturing. "He's always been a straightforward kind of horse, pretty professional, and physically we've noticed some development even since the Gotham (March 11)," said Pletcher.
Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton's 2-Dominus (3-1) comes out of a gate to wire victory in the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont on July 2 and has improved in each of his four career races. Julien Leparoux will again have the mount for trainer Steve Asmussen, who wins at a 21 percent clip going second off a layoff.
3-Brilliant Speed (7-2) will be reunited with Johnny Velazquez, who last rode him on the turf during the winter meet at Gulfstream Park. He comes back from a third-place finish behind the morning line favorite in the Belmont and will be the high weight at 123 pounds.
I'll box the top three noted above in exactas and trifectas. Thinking 7-Alternation (7-2) will need a race being off since mid-May and will be looking harder at him for the Travers.
The $1 million Grade 1 Haskell Invitational will be run Sunday afternoon at Monmouth Park over 1-1/8 miles. The last three winners of this event have taken 3-year-old champion honors in their respective categories (Lookin at Lucky, Rachel Alexandra and Big Brown), so this will certainly be a key race in determining this year's champion.
The race will feature a battle between the Preakness champion 5-Shackleford (5-2) and the Belmont champion 6-Ruler On Ice (4-1). Kelly Breen, Ruler On Ice's trainer, will also send Louisiana Derby champion 3-Pants on Fire (4-1) to the post, who recently won the Pegasus Stakes over the Tesio champ 4-Concealed Identity (12-1) by two lengths. The race has also attracted Preakness third-place finisher 8-Astrology (9-2), who ran a beaten sixth as the 1-2 favorite in the Iowa Derby earlier in the month.
In the Haskell, the cream usually rises to the top, so I favor Shackleford over Pants on Fire to take a big step toward the 3-year-old male championship. I'll give him a pass in the Belmont for the outside post position, the sloppy track and the added distance.
It should be a terrific weekend of racing on the east coast. Good luck and let's go cash some tickets!