Seven colts and one gelding are slated to start in the $150,000 Sanford Stakes (G3) for 2-year-olds as racing heats up at Saratoga Race Course July 22, the day after opening day.
The six-furlong Sanford will be a test for the eight juveniles entered, each who have won in either their first or second start.
Trainer Steve Asmussen entered William Farish homebred Direct Dial, who broke his maiden on debut April 26 at Keeneland by 7 3/4 lengths and then finished second in the June 9 Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park. The Texas-bred son of Too Much Bling is one of two in the field with stakes experience.
Asmussen also has William and Corinne Heiligbrodt's Baffin, who won his June 22 debut at Churchill Downs by 4 3/4 lengths. The son of Justin Phillip makes his second start in the Sanford. Asmussen trained Justin Phillip, a grade 1 winner for Zayat Stables.
"Baffin broke his maiden very impressively at Churchill in his only start," Asmussen said. "I'm kind of concerned if he got enough out of it. He won very easily and is now stepping up into a (graded) stakes, but I think he deserves the opportunity.
"Direct Dial has two nice races in him. I feel very good about how both have trained up here at Saratoga as well. Justin Phillip has been a very good horse for us and this is his very first crop—it's kind of exciting to see him pass that talent along."
With Ricardo Santana, Jr. aboard, Baffin will leave from post 6 and Direct Dial will be to his outside, ridden by Jose Ortiz from post 7.
Trainer Todd Pletcher also brings two to the race, including the other stakes-placed colt in the group—Siena Farm homebred Admiral Jimmy, who finished a nose behind Direct Dial in the 5 1/2-furlong Tremont for third. The son of Jimmy Creed scored his maiden win May 3 at Gulfstream Park by 3 1/2 lengths.
"Admiral Jimmy got a pretty good education in his last start," Pletcher said. "He got a lot of dirt in his face and it took him a little while to adapt to that. Once he did, I thought he finished well."
Red Oak Stable homebred Bal Harbour, Pletcher's other entry, broke his maiden by two lengths in his second start at Gulfstream. The son of First Samurai prevailed through traffic trouble in that start.
"Bal Harbour is coming off a good maiden win at Gulfstream in which he encountered a lot of traffic issues and he was able to overcome it," Pletcher said. "It's a step up now to the big leagues and we'll see where we fit."
Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez will have the mount aboard Bal Harbour and will leave from post 2. Hall of Fame-elect Javier Castellano will be in the irons on Admiral Jimmy from post 5.
Two others that look to show they fit with this group are Free Drop Billy, who was a three-length winner in his only start racing for Albaugh Family Stable and trainer Dale Romans; and Mr. Amore Stable's Firenze Fire, who finished 3 1/2 lengths in front of Phonemyposseagain and 11 lengths in front of third-place finisher Gio Dude, in his Monmouth Park debut for trainer Jason Servis.
On the outside is Nauti Boy, who ships up to Saratoga off a 29-1 neck-win in his debut at Laurel Park sprinting on turf. Kerri Szegi's Mizzen Mast homebred is trained by Erin McClellan.