Robert Evans' Tonalist, winner of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), has a high mountain to climb if he wishes to supplant California Chrome, who remains firmly entrenched atop the 3-year-old division, despite his fourth-place finish behind Tonalist in the third leg of the Triple Crown.
Out in California, Shared Belief will begin his assault in earnest when he takes on older horses in the Pacific Classic (gr. I) Aug. 24.
But for now, Tonalist, who has back-to-back scores in the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) and Belmont, will attempt to add to his growing trophy collection in the July 26 Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga Race Course, which trainer Christophe Clement hopes will propel him into the Travers Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 23 in top form. If the son of Tapit can sweep the two Saratoga stakes, he then will be in position to tackle California Chrome and possibly Shared Belief in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) in a race that could very well decide the championship.
"He's put on a bit of weight, in a good way, since the Belmont Stakes," Clement said during a July 22 teleconference. "He's happy and fresh. Not only do we want to win the Jim Dandy, we want to have a little room to work with for the Travers."
In deciding whether to stay home and run in the Jim Dandy rather than go for the much larger purse and grade I status of the William Hill Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park the following day, Clement said, "Mr. Evans is more of a New York guy than a New Jersey guy, and the Jim Dandy is run on the same track as the Travers and we don't have to ship, especially in the summer. We just feel it's a better prep to stay home and try to win from here."
Tonalist tuned up for the Jim Dandy with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 3/5 in company with his regular workmate Life in Shambles, who runs in the July 25 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.
"He worked very well," Clement said. "He's had the same work partner since February, and just by luck, Life in Shambles will be running the day before in the Curlin. He has always shown more speed in his works than Tonalist, but in this last work Tonalist seemed to be going better at the end. He finished very well and I was happy with the work."
Clement said he is more concerned about the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Curlin than the competition, but added, if Life in Shambles runs big, he would consider running him back in the Travers as well.
"You have a better chance to win with two than one," Clement said.
Clement said Tonalist's main strength is his ability to adapt to different pace scenarios and his gameness when involved in a stretch battle.
"Every time he's in a tight finish, he tries very hard to the end," Clement said. "Does it mean he has the will to win or just (has) more stamina than the others, where he's the strongest at the wire."
Tonalist, a $195,000 RNA at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale, has won three of his five career starts for earnings of $957,000. He was bred in Kentucky by Woodslane Farm.