A few months ago Pin Oak Stable’s Alternation was unproven and a bit of an enigma, thanks in part to some bad luck in his first two stakes tries. Now, the son of Distorted Humor has a chance to establish himself as one of the top 3-year-olds in the country when he takes on a competitive field in the $500,000 Jim Dandy (gr. II) July 30 at Saratoga.
Alternation leads a field of seven in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, which shares top billing with the Diana Handicap (gr. IT) on Saratoga’s 11-race Saturday program. He will face the rapidly improving Dwyer (gr. II) winner Dominus as well as Belmont Stakes (gr. I) second and third-place finishers Stay Thirsty and Brilliant Speed, and three other sophomores. The Jim Dandy is the prep for the $1 million Travers (gr. I) on Aug. 27.
Both the Jim Dandy and Diana will be shown live on VERSUS with coverage beginning at 5 p.m. EDT.
Trainer Donnie Von Hemel was hopeful that Alternation would make a splash in the Triple Crown after Alternation broke his maiden by seven lengths at Remington Park in December and followed up with consecutive allowance wins at Oaklawn Park to begin 2011. He was one of the top contenders for the March 19 Rebel (gr. II) but was scratched after washing out badly and flipping in the starting gate. The colt returned one month later for the Arkansas Derby (gr. I) but broke terribly, was shuffled back to last early, and despite making up some late ground finished a non-threatening fifth.
Alternation (7-2) didn’t exactly start well in the May 14 Peter Pan (gr. II) either, but he made a huge late move under new rider Ramon Dominguez and ran down favored Adios Charlie to win by a head at Belmont Park for his first stakes win. Von Hemel considered running him back in the Belmont Stakes three weeks later but decided to take the conservative route and instead aim for Saratoga.
“It was one of those things where we had to decide did we want to try the Belmont or just back off it and come and try a couple of races here, and we chose the latter,” said Von Hemel.
The dark bay/brown colt has trained mainly at his home base at Arlington Park since then, but had his first work at Saratoga July 23 when covering five furlongs in 1:01 3/5. Dominguez will have the mount once again and they will break from the outside post.
“The fact that we haven’t run since May we knew we had to give him a little bit more in the mornings,” Von Hemel said. “We backed off after the Peter Pan and let him relax for a couple of weeks. We then got back in business and put in some company works and some longer distances just to make sure we had everything ready to go.”
George Bolton, Stonestreet Stables, and Spendthrift Farm’s Dominus (3-1) has quickly turned into a major player in the 3-year-old ranks and figures to be the controlling speed on Saturday. The son of Smart Strike burst onto the scene with a 5 1/4-length maiden win at Santa Anita for trainer Steve Asmussen in March, set the pace and was caught at the wire by Machen in the April 30 The Cliff’s Edge Derby Trial (gr. III) at Churchill Downs in his stakes debut, and wired the field in the July 2 Dwyer at Belmont last out.
Julien Leparoux will have the mount on Dominus, who has three works at Saratoga leading up to the Jim Dandy. They will break from post 2.
The only grade I winner in the field is Live Oak Plantation’s Brilliant Speed (7-2), who pulled a 19-1 upset in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). After finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), the Dynaformer colt was a solid third in the Belmont Stakes. Brilliant Speed is 2-2-3 from 10 lifetime starts with earnings of $625,750. He will carry top weight of 123 pounds.
“We have been pleased with the way he has been training,” said trainer Tom Albertrani. “We gave him a little time off and kept him in light training after the Belmont. I backed off his workouts. He has always been a light-framed horse, so we didn’t have to do a lot with him.”
Mike Repole’s Stay Thirsty was second by three parts of a length in the Belmont after finishing a disappointing 12th in the Kentucky Derby. The Gotham (gr. III) winner broke his maiden by 5 1/2 lengths at Saratoga as a juvenile and was runner-up in the Three Chimneys Hopeful (gr. I) over the same track. He is the 5-2 morning-line favorite here.
“He’s a pretty straightforward horse, low-key, very professional,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, a four-time Jim Dandy winner. “He had a nice little freshening since the Belmont, and yet he’s still pretty fit. So I think it’s right where we’d want him to be.
“I thought he justified what we thought of him in the Belmont, although we were disappointed at the end. Nonetheless, it was a good effort and he’s trained well since then."
Entering the race off his first stakes victory is Peter Callahan’s Scotus, a one-length winner of the Matt Winn (gr. III) June 18 at Churchill for trainer Ken McPeek. The son of Successful Appeal has never been off the board in five starts but will be stepping up in class and making his first start at nine furlongs.
“His last race was a big deal for us,” said McPeek. “He’s a horse who’s really improving with age. He had a bunch of physical issues we had to get past last year, but he’s still got a case to be a good one.”
Completing the field is Moonshine Mullin, winner of the Victoria Park Stakes on the Woodbine Polytrack, and Will's Wildcat, fourth in the Long Branch Stakes last out. Will's Wildcat was also cross-entered in the Curlin Stakes July 29 at Saratoga.
$500,000 Jim Dandy (gr. II, Race 10, 5:45 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds 1. Moonshine Mullin (KY), E Wilson, 117, R Baker, 15-1
2. Dominus (VA), J R Leparoux, 121, S M Asmussen, 3-1
3. Brilliant Speed (FL), J R Velazquez, 123, T Albertrani , 7-2
4. Scotus (KY), A Garcia, 119, K G McPeek, 8-1
5. Will's Wildcat (KY), R Albarado, 117, J E Baker, 15-1
6. Stay Thirsty (KY), J Castellano, 119, T A Pletcher, 5-2
7. Alternation (KY), R A Dominguez, 121, D K Von Hemel, 7-2