The seven-furlong event, the top supporting feature on the Travers day program, promises to be entertaining with the Steve Asmussen trainee J Be K facing a quality field in his grade I debut. The opposition includes Kodiak Kowboy, outstanding winner of last month's Amsterdam (gr. II) by a head over another King's Bishop contender, Desert Key, as well as Carry Back (gr. II) victor Golden Spikes.
A son of Silver Deputy owned by Zayat Stables, J Be K has won his sprint efforts by a combined margin of 27 lengths, including triumphs on Monmouth Park's Jersey Shore (gr. III) in his last start July 4, the Woody Stephens (gr. II) and the Bay Shore (gr. III). He has won twice at seven furlongs, including the a 5 1/2-length romp in the Woody Stephens.
But J Be K, to be ridden once again by Garrett Gomez, has never faced the sort of pace pressure he will see from the talented Desert Key. Asmussen sees the possibility of a speed duel.
“They (Desert Key and J Be K) might negate each other,” he said. “(But) They have earned their way here. You're not going to change who they are now that you got here.”
J Be K has been favored in all seven of his lifetime starts, his only off-the-board finish coming in the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana Derby (gr. II) early this spring when he was eighth. His other loss came in a game second-place finish to top Travers (gr. I) contender Harlem Rocker in Aqueducts Withers (gr. III) in April.
The dark bay colt will be making his first start at Saratoga since breaking his maiden by 7 1/2 lengths in his debut last summer, when he set the track record at 5 1/2 furlongs (1:03) while part of Bob Baffert's stable.
“He has trained really well and the King's Bishop is a good spot for him,” said Asmussen, who took over the training duties this year. “He set a track record before and he's definitely become a nice three-year-old.”
Centennial Farms' Desert Key rolled into the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam July 28, his graded stakes debut, as the favorite and nearly took the field all the way before yielding in the final strides to Kodiak Kowboy, who nearly matched the Saratoga track record with a winning time of 1:15 2/5.
The E Dubai colt drew the rail, a disadvantage in this situation for John Velazquez, who will be aboard the James Jerkens trainee for the first time, replacing Edgar Prado.
“J Be K is a very fast horse and he’s obviously the horse to beat. So, I’m going to wait and see,” said Velazquez. He said he hopes to be able to sit just off the presumed pacesetter and avoid "burning both of us out.”
Larry Jones, who trains Kodiak Kowboy, is hoping to benefit from another speed duel in the King’s Bishop, a race he won last year with Hard Spun.
“In the Amsterdam, I learned he was gutsy,” said Jones, who took over training the son of Posse from Asmussen this summer. “I thought I was running a short horse that day. We definitely couldn’t win the King's Bishop if we couldn't get a race into him. I was proud with the way he ran well in the Amsterdam. I am also glad I didn't screw it up three weeks ahead of the King's Bishop.”
Jones, who won the Alabama (gr. I) last week with Proud Spell, is pleased with how his new acquisition came out of the Amsterdam, and with the colt's tactical ability.
“He's pretty much picture perfect," he said. "He will set anywhere you want to place him. He has all of the speed that you need. He's a race horse.”
Gabriel Saez, who rode Kodiak Kowboy for the first time in the Amsterdam, should be able to spot the bay colt anywhere he likes. Kodiak Kowboy, owned by Vinery Stable in partnership with Fox Hill Farm, will race coupled with Vinery's Lantana Mob. The latter won of the Hirsch Jacobs (gr. III) at Pimlico on Preakness (gr. I) day and was most recently a strong-closing third in Calder's Carry Back July 12.
The stalking Golden Spikes won the Carry Back for trainer Marty Wolfson by three parts of a length over King's Bishop entrant Gentleman James, who also runs in the King's Bishop.
Gotham (gr. III) winner Visionaire won a recent Spa allowance race over a sloppy track after being returned to sprinting by trainer Michael Matz. Visionaire ran 12th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
$250,000 NetJets King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I, Race 10, 5:10 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 7 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Desert Key (KY), 117, John R. Velazquez
2. Gentleman James (KY), 117, Manuel Aguilar
3. Nautical Storm (KY), 117, Cornelio H. Velasquez
4. Visionaire (KY), 119, Alan Garcia
5. Silver Edition (KY), 117, Julien R. Leparoux
6. a-Kodiak Kowboy (KY), 121, Gabriel Saez
7. Golden Spikes (KY), 121, Elvis Trujillo
8. J Be K (KY), 121, Garrett K. Gomez
9. Salute the Sarge (KY), 121, Kent J. Desormeaux
10. I'm So Lucky (KY), 117, Robby Albarado
11. a-Lantana Mob (KY), 119, Ramon A. Dominguez
a-Vinery Stable entry