Defending winner Jackson Bend looks for a repeat July 20 in the $100,000 James Marvin Stakes (gr. III) at Saratoga Race Course, an event he used to launch a successful Forego Stakes (gr. I) bid last year. As usual, he'll have to tangle with a giant to get the job done.
The seven-furlong James Marvin is the first stakes race of the 144th Saratoga season, and is co-featured on the opening day card with the $150,000 Schuylerville Stakes (gr. III) for 2-year-old fillies going six furlongs. Estimated post time is 4:55 p.m. EDT.
Jackson Bend, a son of Hear No Evil trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito for prominent owner Robert LaPenta, has taken down the best of them in the past three years—including his most recent conquest, when he overcame top sprinter Caleb's Posse to win the April 7 Carter Handicap (gr. I) at Aqueduct by a nose.
But the chestnut 5-year-old didn't run a big one last time out, failing to fire May 28 in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I). He finished fifth after running too close to the pace early on, and will need to rebound from that lackluster effort while tackling Repole Stables' Caixa Eletronica, winner of the June 9 True North Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park.
"He's hanging in there," Zito remarked of his runner. "Tough little horse. It was a good race for him last year, start of a comeback. Hopefully (this time) he gets a good race, and a good break, good trip, and some good luck."
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Caixa Eletronica has two graded victories from six starts this season, including an April 14 score in the Charles Town Classic (gr. II). The 7-year-old son of Arromanches also delivered a less-than-impressive performance in the Met Mile, running fourth, but seemed to recover in fine form when he closed determinedly in the True North to get the job done by three-quarters of a length under a vigorous hand ride.
Caixa Eletronica was also twice victorious at the Spa last year, taking starter handicaps at six furlongs and 1 1/8 miles.
"Usually I get nervous when my horses run; with him, I’m entertained," Repole said. "He's a throwback horse. He can win at any distance, any weather condition. Here's a horse who ran in $16,000 claimers, and he's won graded stakes from six furlongs to 1 1/8 miles at age 7. He's the kind of horse that drew me to the game to begin with."
Jackson Bend drew the far outside under new rider Rosie Napravnik and is the 7-5 favorite on the morning line; Caixa Eletronica will break from post one under Javier Castellano as the 5-2 second choice. Both runners share high weight of 123 pounds for the seven-furlong sprint, while five other older horses are evenly matched at 119 pounds.
Also emerging from the True North are Darley Stable's fifth-place finisher Crossbow, a 4-year-old Bernardini colt who was making his stakes debut off a pair of solid wire-to-wire inner-track optional claiming victories at Aqueduct for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin (he earned a career-high 104 Beyer Speed Figure there Feb. 9); and Dinnis Narlinger's Vernon Underwood Stakes (gr. III) winner Pacific Ocean, a 5-year-old Ghostzapper gelding who tried dirt for the first time for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. after six previous starts on synthetic surfaces at Arlington Park, Keeneland Race Course, Woodbine, and Betfair Hollywood Park.
Seeking his second graded stakes score is Peter Callahan's Scotus, a versatile 4-year-old son of Successful Appeal who is a winner on dirt and synthetic surfaces alike. Winner of the 2011 Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs, he made his only attempt at the James Marvin distance a winning one April 7 at Keeneland. Since then, he's posted two third-place finishes for trainer Kenny McPeek—the May 19 Hanshin Cup (gr. III) at Arlington, and the Opening Verse Stakes on the turf June 9 at Churchill.
Taking a step back up in class is Golddigger's Boy, owned by William Hartwell and trained by Ramon Preciado. The 5-year-old son of Jump Start missed by a neck in the June 23 Donald LeVine Memorial Handicap at Parx Racing, a race he won in 2011.
He also took the April 14 Lyman Handicap there via disqualification against state-bred company as the defending champ. Last year he finished fifth behind Jackson Bend in the Forego (gr. I) after stumbling at the break, then ran fourth in the Kelso Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont in October. The Forego loss snapped a five-race win streak racked up at Parx and Penn National.
Zero Rate Policy, winner of last year's Sunshine State Stakes at Gulfstream Park and the Rumson Stakes at Monmouth Park, completes the field. Teresa Pompay trains for Klaravich Stables and William Lawrence.
A 4-year-old gelding by Trippi, Zero Rate Policy survived a scary fall last time out at Monmouth May 12, when he was leading the field as the 2-1 favorite in the Decathlon Stakes but inexplicably went down, triggering a 4-horse spill. All horses and riders involved escaped serious injury.
$100,000 James Marvin Stakes (gr. III, Race 8, approximate post 4:55 p.m. EDT), 3YO & Up, seven furlongs (dirt)
PP., Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds
1. Caixa Eletronica (KY), J. Castellano, 123, T A Pletcher, 5-2
2. Scotus (KY), A. Garcia, 119, K G McPeek, 12-1
3. Golddigger's Boy (PA), J. Lezcano, 119, R Preciado, 10-1
4. Crossbow (KY), R. A. Dominguez, 119, K P McLaughlin, 6-1
5. Pacific Ocean (KY), J. Rosario, 119, R E Dutrow Jr., 5-1
6. Zero Rate Policy (FL), E. Castro, 119, T M Pompay, 20-1
7. Jackson Bend (FL), R. Napravnik, 123, N P Zito, 7-5