Eleven days ago, it seemed doubtful that Jackson Bend would be able to defend his title in the $500,000 Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course Sept. 1. But when entries were announced Aug. 29, the 5-year-old trained by Nick Zito was in the lineup.
Jackson Bend, who is 7-2 in the Forego, was felled in a collision with another horse Aug. 18 at the gap on Saratoga's Oklahoma training track. While the Florida-bred chestnut son of Hear No Evil was spared any serious damage, it was hard to imagine that he would be at full strength after the shocking accident.
But on Aug. 27, Jackson Bend returned to the training track and breezed a half-mile in :49.77 while easily outdistancing his workmate.
"The horse that worked with Jackson, Todd Cole, he's a claiming horse," Zito said. "He's not in Jackson's league. When Jackson went by him, (exercise rider) Max Correa said Jackson was looking around; he had no competition. So, she just dangled the reins a little bit and he went on his business and galloped out good when he heard other horses. I was basically happy because I didn't want to do too much, and I didn't want to do too little."
Zito still isn't sure that Jackson Bend, co-owned by Robert LaPenta and breeder Fred Brei, will run in the seven-furlong Forego, but said he was lucky to have gotten the Carter Handicap (gr. I) winner this far.
"Fitness-wise he's there, and basically what I'm telling people now is that this is day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute to minute," said Zito, who wants to keep checking on his star sprinter. "Even though we got a (clean) bill of health, we'll do all the things again."
If he runs, Jackson Bend would be making his sixth start of the year and his first since a disappointing fourth-place effort when racing wide as the odds-on choice in the James Marvin Stakes (gr. III) July 20. He has seven opponents in the Forego led by 2-1 favorite Shackleford . The Forego is the ninth race on Saturday's Woodward Stakes (gr. I) program with a 5:12 p.m. EDT scheduled post.
"There isn't one person that works on him medically that hasn't given me clearance," Zito said. "They have to keep doing that the rest of the week. I just have to make sure that when I lead him over there - if I do Saturday, and I hope I do - that everybody's happy with the way he is. So it's just a normal race. I don't what them saying 'Well, he got hit, he got banged into.'"
Jackson Bend won last year's Forego by 3 1/4 lengths over Jersey Town , who also returns this year. Jackson Bend began the 2012 campaign with a victory in the Hal's Hope (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park in January. In March, he captured the seven-furlong Carter at Aqueduct Racetrack by a nose over the now-retired Caleb's Posse in a terrific race.
Following a fifth-place finish behind the victorious Shackleford in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at Belmont Park May 28, Jackson Bend lost for the first time in three starts at Saratoga in the James Marvin.
Jackson Bend, a lifetime earner of more than $1.6 million, would get a new rider in the Forego in Junior Alvarado. With four wins from five tries at seven furlongs, Jackson Bend drew post 4.
Shackleford didn't handle the mud in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Aug. 5, backing up after stalking a stiff pace along the inside over a sealed track. He finished last in the field of eight in his first attempt at six furlongs.
Trained by red-hot Dale Romans for owner and co-breeder Michael Lauffer, the 4-year-old Forestry colt will attempt to re-group from post 2 with John Velazquez in the irons. The chestnut won the Met Mile by a nose over Caleb's Posse and took the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. I) by a length over champion sprinter Amazombie before that.
Romans said the 2011 Preakness winner is using the Forego as a stepping stone to the Breeders' Cup.
"We'll have one more race after the Forego," he said. "I'm not sure where it'll be, but maybe the Kelso (gr. II) . But this would tell us a lot, I believe. If we get a fast bare racetrack ... we'd know what we have; it'll help us make some decisions."
Dennis Narlinger's Pacific Ocean comes into the Forego at the top of his game for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. The front-running James Marvin winner is a 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper that will retain the services of jockey Joel Rosario. Pacific Ocean is a perfect 3-for-3 at seven furlongs.
Dutrow also entered Isn't He Perfect for Guy American Racing Stables. The son of Pleasantly Perfect was second last time to San Pablo in the 1 1/8-mile Birdstone Stakes Aug. 2 at Saratoga.
Pacific Ocean will have some company on the front end from Godolphin's Emcee, who set a swift tempo in the Vanderbilt (:21.99, :44.61) for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, only to be tagged late by Poseidon's Warrior and finishing third. Alan Garcia is aboard the 4-year-old Unbridled's Song colt once again.
Repole Stable's Caixa Eletronica will appreciate a return to seven furlongs after weakening to eighth in the Whitney Invitational Handicap (gr. I) at 1 1/8 miles Aug. 4. The Todd Pletcher-trained 7-year-old has three wins from eight starts this season, including a fast-closing victory in the True North Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park June 9. He figures to be flying late.
Hamazing Destiny also showed a good late turn of foot to finish a close fourth in the Vanderbilt, while 2010 Cigar Mile (gr. I) victor Jersey Town tries to rebound from a sixth-place effort in the same race.
$500,000 Forego Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:12 p.m.), 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Trainer
1. Jersey Town (KY), E S Prado, B Tagg
2. Shackleford (KY), J R Velazquez, D L Romans
3. Isn't He Perfect (KY), R A Dominguez, R E Dutrow Jr.
4. Jackson Bend (FL), J Alvarado, N P Zito
5. Pacific Ocean (KY), J Rosario, R E Dutrow Jr.
6. Emcee (KY), A Garcia, K P McLaughlin
7. Caixa Eletronica (KY), J Castellano, T A Pletcher
8. Hamazing Destiny (KY), R Maragh, D W Lukas
All carry 124 pounds.