SARATOGA SPRINGS — A horse named Tax won the Jim Dandy, but it felt like Tacitus paid the most Saturday.
The consistent Juddmonte Farms colt who won the Wood Memorial and was second in the Belmont Stakes nearly fell to his knees coming out of the starting gate, spotting the field precious ground. The gray/roan son of Tapit rallied gamely to finish second, but it was Tax who got the tactically run race of dreams to capture the Grade II, $600,000 stakes that is Saratoga Race Course’s traditional prep for the Grade I Travers.
And an already wide-open 3-year-old male division became more inclusive.
It might not have been if Preakness winner War of Will delivered a win, but Gary Barber’s colt has been notoriously hit or miss this year. And his fifth-place finish Saturday will go into the miss column.
So, looking ahead to the Travers on Aug. 24, there’s Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first to 17th in the Kentucky Derby, second in an ungraded Haskell prep, but rebounded to win last weekend’s Grade I Haskell; War of Will looking for redemption and a horse clearly finding his stride in gelding Tax.
Most people expected Global Campaign to set the pace, but jockey Luis Saez opted not to, so War of Will took the lead. Even though the fractions were reasonable — 24.89 seconds for a quarter-mile and 48.80 for a half-mile, it was an unfamiliar spot for a horse that hasn’t led after a half-mile since a turf race last October at Keeneland.
“He’s tired, but I wouldn’t have thought he needed much,” War of Will trainer Mark Casse said. “I don’t know, I don’t really have any excuses. He had a great trip. I don’t think you could ask for any better, but he got outrun today.”
Tax settled into second and when the rest of the six-horse field was being asked at the quarter-pole, Irad Ortiz sat chilly on Tax. He waited until the three-sixteenths pole before asking Tax, who responded eagerly and went on to a 1 3/4-length win.
“He rode the perfect race today,” winning trainer Danny Gargan said of Ortiz.
Tax was coming off a bullet 4-furlong work last Saturday, the best of 71 horses at the distance, so Gargan knew the gelding’s tank was full.
“This is the fittest I’ve ever had him,” he said. “I knew he would dig in today.”
Jose Ortiz, aboard Tacitus, knew the stumble cost his horse.
“After that, I used him a little bit just to bring him up to the field,” Jose Ortiz said. “I decided to let him go and let him catch up with the leaders a little bit by the half-mile. The rail opened for me by the three-eighths pole. I felt like it was too early to take that chance.”
Gargan said if Tax comes out of this race well, the Travers will be next, and while his horse only carried 120 pounds to Tacitus’ 122 and War of Will’s 124, an even-weight race doesn’t scare him off.
“He’s a gelding, so he will get better with age,” Gargan said. “If he matures as he gets bigger and stronger, he can be any kind of horse at the end of the year.”
The Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap was the Grade I on the card, but the Jim Dandy, of course, got top billing.
Then Imperial Hint upstaged everyone.
The 6-year-old coming off four bullet workouts at Monmouth Park, and who hadn’t raced since a third in the Group I Dubai Golden Shaheen in March, ran a hole through the wind in defending his Vanderbilt title. Under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, Imperial Hint won by 4 lengths in 1:07.92, breaking the 6-furlong track record of 1:08.04 set by Spanish Riddle in 1972.
“I’ve got to give credit to my owner, Raymond Mamone,” winning trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. said. “He had a feeling we were going to do well in this race even though (the horse) was a little short because we lost like a week of training because of the weather back in New Jersey. But he was right. This horse keeps surprising me and surprising everybody.”
Strike Power and 1-2 favorite Mitole, who was 4 for 4 this year entering the race, battled up front. Imperial Hint started to make his move in the middle of the far turn. Normally, one might think that was too soon, but he passed Mitole coming out of the turn and never looked back.
Castellano has won the last three Vanderbilts and four overall.
“I have a lot of confidence with him,” Castellano said. “He’s a little horse with a big heart. He’s not a huge horse, but he’s got so much talent. Like me, I’m a little guy, but I’ve got a lot of heart.”
With the win, Imperial Hint moved over $2 million in earnings to $2,034,155.
A Channel has to win
Channel Maker couldn’t defend his title in the Grade II, $250,000 Bowling Green, but 13-1 surprise Channel Cat gamely held off all challengers to win by a half-length.
Channel Cat, a 4-year-old colt, finished the 1 3/8 miles on a good inner turf course in 2:14.43. Luis Saez rode for Todd Pletcher.
Shoplifted, bought for $800,000 by the partnership of Grandview Equine, Cheyenne Stables and LNJ Foxwoods in March, won his maiden start impressively by capturing the fourth race. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen and ridden by Ricardo Santana, the 2-year-old son of Into Mischief won the 5 1/2-furlong dirt race by 4 1/2 lengths.
Bromans’ first win
Owners/breeders Chester and Mary Broman, who breed horses at their Chestertown farm, got their first win of the meet when New Girl in Town pulled a 22-1 upset in the sixth race, an $80,000 allowance. The Finger Lakes-based, 4-year-old filly paid $47.40 to win.