Even after a season of nothing but parity, there was still hope.
After a five-week Triple Crown exercise that continued the trend of 3-year-old male classmates taking turns beating one another, there was reason to think that a meeting between the winners of the first two legs of the classic in the July 29 Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G2) would end with some semblance of clarity being brought to the sophomore picture.
Let the record show that, for now, the erratic beat continues to roll on.
Hindsight proves the racing community should have been ready for Good Samaritan to do exactly what he did in the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. In his first start on dirt, the son of Harlan's Holiday added his name to the 3-year-old jumble with a last-to-first surge that put Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner Always Dreaming and Preakness Stakes (G1) victor Cloud Computing in their place.
The compact field of five was framed as a two-horse clash between the two classic winners, as each was making their first start since the middle leg of the Triple Crown in Baltimore May 20. For the brunt of the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, that script held water.
Sent off as the even-money choice, just getting favoritism over Cloud Computing at 6-5, Always Dreaming put his early speed to work out of the inside post and appeared to be getting an ideal trip as he cut fractions of :24.13 and :48.53, with Cloud Computing about four lengths behind in the stalking seat.
Racing at the back of the five-horse field—more than 12 lengths off the leader at one point down the backstretch—Good Samaritan bided his time as Cloud Computing hooked Always Dreaming on the far turn, with maiden winner Pavel joining that duo three-wide to make it a three-way fight coming into the lane. With Pavel digging down in just his second start and Always Dreaming eyeball to eyeball with Cloud Computing to the inside, Good Samaritan began his rally on the far outside under Joel Rosario and ran by the lot of them to earn a 4 3/4-length victory in his main-track debut.
"I couldn't be more pleased with the way he ran," said winning Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who celebrated his birthday Saturday. "It was a terrific race for (Good Samaritan). The pace was a little bit slower than I thought it would be. I was a little concerned when they were going down the middle of the backside and they hung up the slow fractions. I was a little concerned about that. They did start to pick it up leaving the half-mile pole. He ran into a very slow pace and ran well."
The concept of trying Good Samaritan on dirt was something Mott and his owners discussed since the colt's 2-year-old season. Following his win in the Summer Stakes (G2T) at Woodbine last fall, the bay youngster was cross-entered in both the Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G1T) last November, but was put in the latter, where he finished third as the favorite.
The decision to switch surfaces was further put off when Good Samaritan needed some extended time off and didn't make his seasonal debut until his runner-up effort in the May 6 American Turf Stakes Presented by Ram Trucks (G2T) at Churchill Downs. It was an issue that Elliott Walden, president of breeder and co-owner WinStar Farm, kept pressing, however, and one that became a reality after Good Samaritan finished fourth in the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1T) July 8.
"Elliott had been trying to get me to run him on the dirt ever since the Breeders' Cup last November," Mott said. "We were going to do it earlier in the year and we missed some of the Triple Crown prep races, and we decided to wait until after the Belmont Derby.
"We decided to continue on the grass for another race and point toward the Belmont Derby ... but after he finished that race up, Elliott thought it was time to get him to the dirt. Last week we came to the conclusion we should try this race. Initially it was going to be the (grade 1) Travers (Aug. 26) and then, the way this was coming up, it looked like we were going to have a decent pace in this race and the horse was doing so well that we decide to make this choice."
The way Good Samaritan hit the wire in 1:50.69 ahead of two of the more accomplished members of his generation, the 1 1/4-mile Travers is now a logical next spot for the horse owned by the partnership of WinStar, Head of Plains Partners, China Horse Club, and SF Racing Group.
"He wants to always put in one last run," Rosario said. "When I passed the three-eighths pole, he gave me a very good feeling. He was getting over the track very nice, so I just kind of tried to save a little ground before turning for home, but he was on his game today."
Giuseppe the Great finished well for second, while Always Dreaming came in third. Pavel and Cloud Computing rounded out the order of finish.
"He broke really well, and it went like we were expecting," said John Velazquez, jockey of Always Dreaming. "He put in a really good fight down the lane. He just couldn't get away from the other horses for whatever reason."
"He seemed to struggle with the track today," said Chad Brown, trainer of Cloud Computing. "He just didn't have it, and that's about it. We are just going to have to reevaluate the horse tomorrow and go from there."
Sent off at 8-1 odds, Good Samaritan paid $19.20, $5.60, and $3.50 across the board as he improved his record to three wins from seven starts with $767,616 in earnings. He is out of the stakes-placed Pulpit mare Pull Dancer.
In a division that has consistently produced new wrinkles to its leadership this season, Good Samaritan's presence on the scene is par for the course.
"He tries hard all the time," Rosario said. "He got beat a couple of times by good horses, but he looked like he really had it today."