Godolphin's ESSENTIAL QUALITY returns to the races as the 1 to 2 morning-line favorite in Saturday's $600K Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga.
The classy, gray son of TAPIT will be making his first start since his head-victory over HOT ROD CHARLIE in the Belmont Stakes (G1), and is expected to make short work of his five rivals.
A win here would give Godolphin their second Jim Dandy title in a row, having won it last year with MYSTIC GUIDE, and give trainer Brad Cox his very first Jim Dandy score.
Saturday's 58th running of the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) has attracted a field of five runners. They'll run nine furlongs over the main track, at the Post Time of 5:39 PM ET.
DR JACK: 15-1
ESSENTIAL QUALITY: 1-2
RISK TAKING: 15-1
The Belmont Champ ESSENTIAL QUALITY breaks from the five-hole with regular rider Luis Saez aboard. On paper, he figures to be up close and on the pace. He's certainly fast enough to press the issue with any of these rivals early on, if need be. Look no further than his bout with HIGHLY MOTIVATED in the Blue Grass Stakes, a trip that could very well materialize here.
Look, the champ has done nothing wrong. He has delivered the win as the betting favorite 5 out of 6 times. The lone loss came in the Kentucky Derby over a wide trip. Saturday he will be the heavy betting favorite—and deservedly so. In preparation for this race, he delivered a sharp workout last week, going 5F in 1:00.8 as the 4th fastest of 30 works at that distance. There's our answer if we're wondering whether the Belmont Stakes wiped his tank dry. Plus, we've just seen HOT ROD CHARLIE come back in stellar fashion in the Haskell, albeit a disqualification. Both were at the thick of the brutal Belmont pace, it's likely ESSENTIAL QUALITY comes back firing too.
However, there is a new shooter in town, who has attracted 4-1 favoritism over our more-familiar three-year-old crop, and that is MASQUEPARADE. For this colt to be 4-1 against the top dog of the three-year-old division, off of just one graded stakes win, means he is one to take a hard look at.
Just who is MASQUEPARADE?
He is a $180K-purchased son of UPSTART who hails from the Albert M. Stall Jr. stable. MASQUEPARADE was last seen winning the Ohio Derby (G3) over a talented group of three-year-olds. He was the $2.20-to-win favorite that day, and got the job done winning by half a length. He beat KING FURY, KEEPMEINMIND, and PROMISE KEEPER among others. But just as impressive was perhaps his win at Churchill Downs one race prior to that. He blasted an OC $75k group going nine-furlongs back on May 1st. He won by eleven, widening lengths. What makes this competitor intriguing is that he hasn't even peaked; and yet, on paper, he averages a stronger Late Speed than our Belmont Champ.
MASQUEPARADE delivered a sharp 5F workout last week, going 5F in :59.4 as the 3rd fastest of 87 works at that distance. He's making his second start of a layoff, so he's arguably more tightened up for this race than his gray opponent.
What to do with WEYBURN and KEEPMEINMIND, both at 6-1?
Interestingly enough, KEEPMEINMIND touts the highest Late-Speed figure of 122, which he earned from his runner-up finish in the Ohio Derby. The next best Late-Speed figure is MASQUEPARADE's 116.
KEEPMEINDMIND was absolutely gobbling up ground in the final furlong of his last start. He has consistently improved in each of his last three starts for trainer Robertino Diodoro, and guess who will be piloting him for another big stretch run? None other than Joel Rosario, who gets onboard for the first time, and is one of the strongest finishers in the game.
WEYBURN from post position three is an interesting player for trainer James A. Jerkens. This son of PIONEER OF THE NILE exits a neck-loss to MANDALOUN—an effort that has been flattered by MANDALOUN's subsequent bout with HOT ROD CHARLIE in the Haskell Stakes. Note that WEYBURN fired a bullet work last week, going 5F in :59.4 as the fastest of 30 works at that distance. Also note, Irad Ortiz JR. hops on the saddle for the first time. The plot thickens!
DR JACK breaks from the rail for trainer Todd Pletcher. He's 15-1 on the morning-line, but is still quite interesting. This son of PIONEER OF THE NILE finished a game third against a highly-competitive field in the Pegasus Stakes, which featured MANDALOUN and WEYBURN who ran 1-2. It was DR JACK's first crack against well-developed graded stakes winners, plus it was just his third career start. And yet he finished with gusto. Note that the Pegasus field was rated tougher than anything MASQUEPARADE has faced to this day. We probably can't even take DR JACK's chart result figures at face value, for he earned those numbers at Monmouth Park where he couldn't be whipped. For all we know he would have ran much faster. The main point is he was only three lengths away from beating the ultra tough MANDALOUN. If DR JACK takes a step forward from that effort, he could have a big say in the stretch.
RISK TAKING at 15-1 breaks from post position six for trainer Chad Brown. This son of MEDAGLIA D'ORO is still searching for his form that won him the Withers Stakes (G3) back in February at Aqueduct. He's had consecutive disappointing efforts, but will try to get back on track with a good showing here. His sire won the Jim Dandy back in his day. Jockey Manuel Franco gets the call.