Saratoga Race Report: Scorpion Stings Competition

Saratoga Race Report: Scorpion Stings Competition
Photo: AP/NYRA/Adam Coglianese
Scorpion stings competition in Jim Dandy.
A showdown it wasn't. Not at the end of the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. I) on Aug. 4 at steamy Saratoga Race Course anyway. When a duel for the lead developed in the final furlong it did not involve either of the marquee names in the six-horse field.

By then, Congaree was laboring under jockey Gary Stevens and out of contention. A P Valentine was moving up, but his wide trip gave him too much to do to make a serious run at the leaders. Nearly six lengths ahead of them were a pair of longshots, Scorpion and Free of Love.

The 38th running of the Jim Dandy--its purse increased 50% for its first year as a grade I race--figured to be all about Congaree and A P Valentine. The two colts had run well in the Triple Crown series. Congaree was third in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) before winning the Swaps (gr. I) at Hollywood Park. A P Valentine's Derby was a bumpfest; he ended up seventh, the chartcallers finally decided, and was the runner-up in the Preakness and Belmont (gr. I).

So the theme of the Jim Dandy, on yet another hot and humid Saratoga afternoon, was of a summer showdown. It didn't turn out that way. Not even close.

Instead, the first two colts to the wire in a race named for the upset winner of the 1930 Travers (at odds of 100-1) were a combined 0-for-11 in stakes. Moreover, Scorpion had not won beyond seven furlongs
before edging Free of Love by a half-length in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy in 1:48.90. Congaree, the 2-5 favorite, was third, beaten 6 1/4 lengths, and finished 1 1/4 lengths ahead of A P Valentine.

As they walked through the ground floor of the noisy clubhouse after the race, Stevens turned to trainer Bob Baffert and said, "He bled." Congaree had surged to the front, wresting the lead from Free of Love just inside the five-furlong pole, but his run was over by the time he reached the quarter pole." It looked like he was cruising fine, but then all of a sudden I saw where he ran out of horse," Baffert said. "He thinks he might have bled or something. We'll check that out. Maybe the humidity got him. I don't know.

"It looked like he was in hand," Baffert continued. "It looked like he was doing it easy, but on this track you don't know what easy is on the fractions. We'll just go back there and scope him and see what happens."

The next morning, several hours before saddling Point Given in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I), Baffert announced that Congaree had bled a bit and had wrenched his right front knee. The injury will cause him to miss the rest of the year.

It took him a year, but trainer D. Wayne Lukas finally got Scorpion to deliver the kind of big performance he had been expecting and predicting was possible. A nasty quarter-crack was the biggest problem the colt faced; it kept Scorpion out of the Triple Crown series. The Seattle Slew colt, owned by Robert Baker, David Cornstein, and William Mack, sat six to eight lengths off the early pace of :24.37, :47.85, and 1:10.93 in the Jim Dandy before moving into contention and making his winning run through the stretch.

Lukas said he was comfortable throughout his colt's trip up the backstretch under jockey Jerry Bailey, even when it appeared Congaree just might scoot away and open up several lengths on Free of Love.

"I thought we were going to be one of the legitimate closers," Lukas said. "It wasn't so much that I thought I had a chance, it was that Jerry thought he had a chance. For Jerry to let those two open up and get that far in front, I think he had to be confident that he was going to make some run. I don't think he was confident he was going to run them down, but I think he was confident he was going to make it interesting.

"I was watching our horse probably more than the leaders and Jerry is not making any effort over there to try to close it up. He's very content sitting right where he is. He must have felt like he had some horse under him."

From his position, Bailey liked what he saw developing in front of him midway up the backstretch.

"Stevens took off with Congaree like a bat out of hell at the four and a half with the leader and I just had to assume that they would come back at some point," Bailey said. "That's too fast to go in the middle of the race."

As he watched Richard Migliore warm up Free of Love before the race, Bailey said he realized that the Meadow Flight colt trained by Richard Violette Jr. was going to be gunned to the lead out of the gate to press Congaree. While Scorpion had shown some speed in most of his five races this year, Bailey decided to be patient.

"I just didn't want to go head to head with him and set it up for Congaree, so I elected to ease back, never dreaming that they'd do what they did at the half-mile pole." Bailey said. "They just took off like crazy."

That decisive third quarter of :23.08 was the fastest of the race.

"I think probably Congaree prompted it," Bailey said, "but it took its toll on both of them."

Free of Love came back along the rail when Congaree slowed and regained the lead in the second turn. He had a 30-length lead at the top of the stretch. By then, Bailey and Scorpion were on the move and Lukas had stopped second-guessing his decision to scratch Scorpion from the six-furlong $100,000 Amsterdam (gr. II) the previous day. The first quarter of the Amsterdam was run in :21.69, but the time for the final quarter was :26.17, which would have suited late-running Scorpion.

"If I'm perfectly frank and honest, after I watched the race yesterday when those horses all walked home, I thought I made a mistake," Lukas said. "I know my horse is good right now and I thought he deserved a shot at the Jim Dandy.

"The Jim Dandy was our intention all along. That's the race we thought we should run in. But watching the Amsterdam, I thought, 'Boy, they walked home. We're a closer. We probably could have won the Amsterdam.' I'm glad I'm not smart enough to do that kind of stuff."

It was only after he talked with jockey Victor Espinoza and watched a head-on replay of the race that trainer Nick Zito understood why A P Valentine never was a factor. As they were running up the backstretch, Espinoza attempted to take A P Valentine closer to the rail. Bailey and Scorpion were moving out at that time and A P Valentine ended up even farther from the rail.

"I'm disappointed, but this is just a situation that we couldn't control," Zito said. "It was more a situation than a bad trip. It was a bad situation, that's all."

Scorpion's Jim Dandy victory was timely indeed for Lukas. The day before the race, Nadia Sanan, racing manager for her family's Padua Stables, announced they were taking most of their horses away from Lukas and distributing them among several trainers. Lukas said he was frustrated he had been unable to do more with the Padua horses and said he was still friendly with the family.

"Like I told a guy today, you could push me out of a nine-story building and somebody would be walking down there with a mattress," he said. "I'm going to be fine."

(Chart, Equibase)

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