He was unraced since a 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), but Godolphin Stables' Alpha proved his mettle off the layup July 28 when he took the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga Race Course in wire-to-wire fashion (VIDEO).
Alpha defeated Neck 'n Neck by two lengths in a time of 1:50.47 for the 1 1/8-mile distance over a sloppy, sealed track.
Winning a race his sire Bernardini won en route to a Travers (gr. I) victory in 2006, the 3-year-old colt stamped himself as one of the likely favorites for the Aug. 25 "Midsummer Derby," as did runner-up Neck 'n Neck.
"We'll most likely go in the Travers now," trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "We'll speak to (racing manager) Simon Crisford, and we'll go over it, but this was the plan all the time, to run in this and back in the Travers. Hopefully, everything goes well for the next four weeks."
"I was very pleased that my horse ran great; this is another big race, another step forward," trainer Ian Wilkes remarked of Neck 'n Neck, who finished second two lengths back.
Asked if he would continue on to the Travers, "I don't see why not," Wilkes said.
Sent off as the 9-5 favorite over seven other sophomores in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, Alpha went straight to the lead from post 1. He set moderate early fractions of :24.40 for the quarter and :49.30 for the half under jockey Ramon Dominguez while followed by Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) winner Teeth of the Dog and Matt Win Stakes (gr. III) victor Neck 'n Neck. He was not challenged for the front position while getting three-quarters in 1:14.03.
"Ramon and I both thought about going to the lead and talked about it," McLaughlin remarked. "We both thought the same. In the Wood Memorial, he didn't break well and then he got smashed going into the first turn, and we thought he would be forwardly placed. Here, when you're in the one hole, you have to go.
"Ramon thought the same way I did and said, 'If he breaks well, I'm going.' I said, 'I'm all for that.' He wasn't going to rush him off his feet, but he wanted to be on the lead. So it was a great call, and it all worked out."
Rolling off the turn with a comfortable lead, the bay colt faced a looming challenge from Neck 'n Neck, who made a run after swinging three wide. But he easily turned back that contender under urging from Dpominguez and even jumped over a set of marks in the sloppy track mid-stride before cruising under the wire in front.
"Turning for home, I could feel Neck 'n Neck coming for me, but the more I got after my horse, just opening up my reins, the more he was finding," Dominguez said. I felt pretty confident at that point. He was superb all the way around there. Turning for home when I shook him up, he just took off for me. It's an indication he'll handle farther, and I love the way he was handling himself prior to and after the race."
Jockey Leandro Goncalves was not disheartened by the runner-up finish of Neck 'n Neck, who finished two lengths clear of Liaison in third.
"He's drastically improved from race to race," Goncalves said. 'He's in good form right now. I expected him to run like he did. We were second-best in a race with really no pace. I think he could give me my first grade I win; I think we'll be back in four weeks.
"I was concerned with the off track. When the gates opened, it took him a little bit to get his feet together. Once I got him to the outside, he started traveling good. When we got to the quarter-pole, we started moving, and I thought we had a chance to catch Alpha, but Ramon had a lot of horse left."
Alpha returned $5.60, $3.70, and $3.20 while Neck 'n Neck paid $4.50 and $4.10 and Liaison brought $4.20. Teeth of the Dog, My Adonis, Atigun, Fast Falcon, and Prospective completed the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky by Darley out of the Nijinsky II mare Munnaya, Alpha was a highly-regarded 3-year-old at the early part of the year when he won the Count Fleet Stakes in January, took the Withers (gr. III) in February, and was second by a neck to Gemologist in the April 7 Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial (gr. I). He failed to fire in the Derby, however, and missed the June 9 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) after spiking a temperature.
With the Jim Dandy score, Alpha improved his record to four wins and two seconds from eight starts with earnings of $860,000.