2023 Jim Dandy Stakes Contenders at Saratoga

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NYRA Press Release
Updated: July 26, 2023

Forte Returns to Saratoga For Compact But Talented Jim Dandy

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 the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes, a nine-furlong main track route for sophomores, at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, July 29.

Owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable, Forte arrives from a closing runner-up effort to Arcangelo in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes 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."

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.

2023 Jim Dandy Stakes Field & Odds

Race 10 at Saratoga on Saturday, July 29 - Post 5:45 PM

Entry Horse ML Odds Jockey Trainer
1 Disarm 6-1 Joel Rosario
120 Lbs
Steven Asmussen
2 Forte 7-5 Irad Ortiz, Jr.
124 Lbs
Todd Pletcher
3 Hit Show 6-1 Luis Saez
120 Lbs
Brad Cox
4 Saudi Crown 5-2 Florent Geroux
118 Lbs
Brad Cox
5 Angel of Empire 5-2 Flavien Prat
124 Lbs
Brad Cox

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.

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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."

Pre-Draw News

Forte adds blinkers for final Jim Dandy tune up

July 22 - Forte (Repole Stable and St. Elias Stables) added blinkers to cover a half-mile in 50 seconds flat in company in his final work ahead of next Saturday's (July 29) Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes presented by DK Horse, at Saratoga Race Course.

Trained by Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, Forte, with Irad Ortiz, Jr. up, went in company with four-time graded stakes winning stablemate Emmanuel. It was Forte's second breeze this summer at Saratoga after covering a half-mile in 48.90 last Friday.

The dark bay son of Violence, a last out second in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 10, won Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4 and Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1. He entered the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs as the morning-line favorite but was scratched the morning of the race with a bruised foot.

Pletcher said he decided to make the equipment change following last week's work.

"In the Florida Derby, he lost concentration a little bit around the far turn and fortunately enough he was able to rally and get up in time. He sort of did the same thing in the Belmont," Pletcher said. "We thought in his breeze last week, he was kind of more focused on what the horse next to him is doing rather than what he should be doing.

"Irad and I had a conversation after that work about possibly trying some blinkers on him," Pletcher continued. "We galloped him in them one day this week and it seemed like that went fine. Irad felt like he was a little more focused on what he was asking him to do rather than what the horse next to him was doing. If we were going to try an equipment change, we felt like the Jim Dandy would be the race to do it in and not wait until the Travers if we felt we needed to make a change."

Pletcher said the blinkers made a noticeable difference.

"He was locked in and more aggressive going to the pole and then he settled in a really good rhythm," Pletcher noted. "But when Irad asked him, he responded right away. He didn't seem to care what his workmate was doing as much."

Hit Show, Angel of Empire breeze in company for G2 Jim Dandy

July 22 - The graded stakes-winning pair of Hit Show and Angel of Empire breezed five furlongs in company Saturday over Saratoga Race Course's Oklahoma dirt training track for trainer Brad Cox as both horses eye a start in the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy presented by DK Horse on July 29 at the Spa.

Under clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s, the pair stepped onto the fast track right at its 5:30 a.m. opening with Flavien Prat aboard Angel of Empire and Luis Saez in the irons atop Hit Show. The two walked in tandem midway up the stretch before turning back around to assume their starting position and taking off with matching strides. Angel of Empire was positioned to the inside of Hit Show with the two completing their exercise on nearly even terms.

Cox said this week's work was almost identical to their work last week when the two covered five-eighths in 1:00.90.

"I had them in a minute and four [fifths] this weekend and last. It was really good and very similar to what we saw last week," said Cox. "I loved that work and I loved this work. They work well together and it went so well last week, I didn't want to change much. I was very happy with what we saw."

Gary and Mary West's Hit Show and Albaugh Family Stables' Angel of Empire were last seen dead-heating for fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes where the former attended the pace and the latter closed from eighth-of-nine.

Hit Show is in search of his second graded coup after winning the Grade 3 Withers in February at Aqueduct Racetrack, while Angel of Empire looks for his third after wins in the Grade 2 Risen Star in February at Fair Grounds and the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park ahead of a third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.

Forte logs half-mile work in prep for G2 Jim Dandy

July 14 - Reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forte logged his first breeze of the summer at Saratoga Race Course when covering a half-mile in 48.90 seconds over the Oklahoma dirt training track Friday with regular jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. up for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher.

The son of Violence went in company with graded stakes-winner Grand Sonata in preparation for the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy on July 29 at the Spa.

"He jumped on the bridle a little early, so I kind of took a little hold away from the horse," said Ortiz, Jr. "I allowed him to see the company and go after him. He did."

Pletcher said he was pleased with the work, which he moved to the training track after heavy rains overnight led to the main track being sealed this morning.

"We fortunately had the option of coming over here on a harrowed track," said Pletcher. "I thought he worked well. He's a pretty straightforward horse and he does what you ask him to do. I thought he was moving really well and he seemed happy. He usually sits a little off [his workmate] to keep him focused."

Ortiz, Jr., who regularly works the colt, said Forte was as professional as usual.

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"We went 48 and change. On this kind of track, it is really good," Ortiz, Jr. said. "He is doing good. He looked good, he looked happy, so let's see what happens. The way he does things [excites me]. He knows where the wire is. He loves to win. You can see in the Belmont Stakes, I kept trying with him and he kept coming. He's a fighter."

Forte, owned by St. Elias Stable and Repole Stable, recorded his second work since running a closing second in the 12-furlong Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, adding to a half-mile drill in 50.80 he posted on July 7 over the Belmont dirt training track.

"He's obviously a very fit horse and he just ran a mile and a half, so we don't feel like we have to do a lot with him leading up to this race," Pletcher said. "We'll probably come back with another maintenance work next week."

Forte had a five-race win streak snapped in the Belmont after beginning his sophomore season with wins in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 1 Florida Derby, both at Gulfstream Park. The Jim Dandy is likely to serve as a springboard to the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 26, a race Pletcher said would be meaningful to win after Forte was forced to scratch from the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby due to a bruised foot.

"I think you can see he's a little more laid back. He's an intelligent colt and takes everything in stride, and you can see he's matured that way," said Pletcher. "Obviously it was a frustrating spring and he ran terrific in the Belmont considering what he was up against. To me, he's a deserving divisional leader, but like everyone else, he's got to continue to win to hold that spot."

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Todd Pletcher Confirms Forte to G2 Jim Dandy

July 13 - Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher has confirmed Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable's 2022 Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Forte for the nine-furlong Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy on July 29 at Saratoga Race Course.

The dark bay Violence colt was a late-closing second in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 10 at Belmont Park, where he was seven wide in upper stretch and rallied to grab runner-up honors from stablemate Tapit Trice - who is targeting the Grade 1 Haskell on July 22 at Monmouth Park.

Forte won Gulfstream's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4 and Grade 1 Florida Derby on April 1. He entered the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs as the morning-line favorite, but was scratched the morning of the race with a bruised foot. His Championship-earning season saw Forte capture three Grade 1 races in the Hopeful at Saratoga as well as the two-turn Claiborne Breeders' Futurity and Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Keeneland.

Forte will use the Jim Dandy as a prep for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers on August 26 at Saratoga. Pletcher noted past success in using the Jim Dandy as a springboard to the Travers, having swept both races with Flower Alley [2005] and Stay Thirsty [2011].

"It was a tough call," said Pletcher. "We just felt like shipping up here, getting him used to the track, two Travers winners we previously had have done that."

Pletcher added that Forte will likely breeze on Friday morning over the Saratoga main track following the renovation break.