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Belmont Stakes-winner Essential Quality eyes G2 Jim Dandy win

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The top contenders in the 3-year-old division usually sojourn to Saratoga Race Course in August for the Travers. But top-caliber sophomores will be competing at the historic racetrack in July, with Saturday’s Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy attracting a talented six-horse field headlined by Belmont Stakes-winner Essential Quality.

The 58th running of the Jim Dandy, contested at 1 1/8 miles, is slated as Race 9 and is one of three graded stakes on today’s 11-race card, joining the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap for 3-year-olds and up sprinting six furlongs in Race 8 and the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green for 4-year-olds and up going 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf in Race 10.

 The Jim Dandy, a prep race for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers at 1 1/4 miles on August 28, will mark the Saratoga debut of Godolphin’s Essential Quality. The reigning Champion 2-Year-Old for trainer Brad Cox has already proved he was more than a talented juvenile, starting his sophomore campaign with wins in the Grade 3 Southwest and Grade 2 Blue Grass while on the Kentucky Derby trail this spring.

 Following a competitive fourth in the “Run for the Roses” on May 1 in which he earned his first triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, Essential Quality outdueled Hot Rod Charlie to post a 1 1/4-length victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets on June 5 at the Triple Crown race’s famed 1 1/2-mile distance. The Tapit colt earned Cox his first career win in an American Classic and has registered three works at Saratoga since shipping from Churchill earlier this month.

“He likes it up here big time,” Cox said. “We take him out in the afternoons when it’s not raining and let him graze. He’s a lawnmower. He’s real focused here. He’s doing well.”

Essential Quality earned a 109 Beyer for his Belmont win and has posted six wins in seven career starts, with five of those victories in graded stakes, encompassing three winner’s circle trips in Grade 1s after winning the Breeders’ Futurity in his second career start in October at Keeneland before winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over the same track in November to close out his 2020 award-winning campaign.

 “I’m very anxious to see him race again just for the simple fact of how he’s training and how he’s filling out,” Cox said. “He’s a very intelligent horse. He’s been wanting to do more. He came out of last work great. He’s been very sharp and his energy has been great. The cooler weather is playing a role in that. But he’s ready to run. I’m very excited.”

Jockey Luis Saez, aboard for all six of Essential Quality’s stakes races, will have the return call from post 5.

Chiefswood Stables’ Weyburn, a resurgent winner of the Grade 3 Gotham going a one-turn mile in March at Aqueduct Racetrack, will be making his first start since running a game second to Kentucky Derby runner-up Mandaloun by a neck in the 1 1/16-mile Pegasus on June 13 at Monmouth Park.

The Jimmy Jerkens trainee’s lone off-the-board finish in five starts since his debut in October was a fourth-place effort in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino in April going the Jim Dandy distance at the Big A.

Weyburn has worked three times at Saratoga this month since shipping from Belmont and will look to again show a competitiveness that has seen him demonstrate marked tenacity in the stretch run.

“He’s a big dude; big and long,” Jerkens said. “He’s a massive horse. When they come back fighting like that, that’s what you want.”

After stepping up to two turns the last two races, Jerkens said Weyburn is learning how to navigate the longer distances.

“He still acts like he’s a little confused by two-turn racing,” Jerkens said. “He breaks on his own and then gets on the bridle and then he was a little keen down the backside [in the Pegasus]. The pacesetter [Lugamo] stopped abruptly and he ended up on the lead by himself, and he looked like he spit the bit out a little bit Mandaloun made a big, sweeping move past him and then he went after him again. He did that in the Gotham, when he lost the lead, he came back on. I guess it’s like a little game with him.

“I think the last race did him a lot of good,” Jerkens added. “His only two-turn race before that was the Wood Memorial and there was a big gap from that race. He should get better with more seasoning.”

Irad Ortiz, Jr., the defending three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey, will ride Weyburn for the first time, drawing post 3.

“Irad is going to have to figure it out. He’s got enough natural speed to where you can pretty much put him wherever you want,” Jerkens said. “I just hope instead of running spotty like that, l just hope he runs a little more even all the way and still has it for the end.”

Channel Cat primed for G2 Bowling Green

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Calumet Farm homebred Channel Cat and his trainer, Jack Sisterson, are no strangers to springing upsets in graded stakes. The duo will look to add another exclamation mark to their collective ledgers in Saturday’s Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green, an 11-furlong inner-turf test for older horses, at Saratoga Race Course.

Channel Cat, who is one of three sons of English Channel entered for Saturday’s 63rd renewal, captured the 2019 Bowling Green at odds of 13-1 for former conditioner Todd Pletcher. The 6-year-old chestnut, who was transferred to Sisterson’s care last year, won a dramatic renewal of the Grade 1 Man o’ War in May at Belmont Park at 8-1 by a nose over Gufo, who was a neck better than Bowling Green-rival Moon Over Miami.

The Man o’ War score completed a personal trifecta of Grade 1-wins at all three NYRA tracks for Sisterson following Vexatious’ [9-1] score in the Personal Ensign last year at Saratoga and True Timber’s [7-1] Cigar Mile victory in December at Aqueduct Racetrack

John Velazquez, who has also enjoyed surprise success in the Bowling Green, is tied with fellow Hall of Fame riders Javier Castellano, Jerry Bailey, and Jorge Velasquez for most Bowling Green wins with three. He will look to secure the standalone record victory from the inside post after scores with Turk Passer [1994, 31-1], Cetewayo [1998, 9-1], and Air Support [2012, 7-5].

Channel Cat has posted a trio of recent works at Saratoga, including a half-mile effort in 48.66 seconds Saturday on the Oklahoma training turf.

“He couldn’t be doing any better,” Sisterson said. “He’s done all his works within himself. On Saturday, John Velazquez worked him and was very happy with him. The key to Channel Cat is keeping him happy and he seems to be going into the race in great shape and happy form. We look forward to a fun summer with him.”

Channel Cat, who has competed over good turf in his last three outings, ran second in the 12-furlong Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland in April ahead of his Man o’ War score.

Last out, in the 10-furlong Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Manhattan on June 5 at Belmont, Channel Cat pressed the pace and faded to seventh in a race won by Domestic Spending. The second and third-place finishers exited that event to win stakes, including a Grade 1 United Nations coup for the Chad Brown-trained Tribhuvan and a Grand Couturier-score for the Christophe Clement-conditioned Gufo.

“I ran him back in three weeks after the Elkhorn because he was doing so well. I probably should have skipped the Manhattan because he had a tough race in the Man o’ War, but we gave him a little break now prior to the Bowling Green,” Sisterson said. “It was good to see Chad Brown’s horse come back and win the United Nations so the form held up well.”

Bill Mott, who is tied with fellow Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher for most Bowling Green victories with four, will saddle a trio of contenders, including the reigning Champion Turf Male Channel Maker, graded-stakes winner Red Knight and multiple graded-stakes placed Moon Over Miami.

Reigning Champion Whitmore headed for G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The defending Champion Sprinter Whitmore has shown no signs of slowing down in his 8-year-old campaign. He will again look to put his ability on display, facing some of the top sprinters in the country in Saturday’s 37th running of the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga Race Course.

The prestigious six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and upward pays homage to the influential owner, breeder and racetrack operator who made a major impact on the North American thoroughbred industry in the 20th century.

Whitmore, co-owned by trainer Ron Moquett with Robert V. LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners, arrives at the Vanderbilt with $4,434,350 in the bank, and a record of 41-15-13-4, including seven graded stakes victories at four different racetracks. The gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect capped his award-winning 2020 campaign with a 3 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Keeneland.

Whitmore has not found the winner’s circle in 2021 but has come close in all three starts. After a game second by a neck to C Z Rocket in the Hot Springs on March 13 at Oaklawn Park, he returned to run second to his rival once more in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint on April 10 at the Arkansas oval. Whitmore was last seen finishing a close third in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on May 1, where he was seven-wide in upper stretch and crossed the finish line in tandem with Flagstaff and Lexitonian.

“His record says he’s 0-for-3 this year, but he’s 3-for-3 in effort,” Moquett said. “All we can ask is for him to try. Are there some things that may have resulted in a better outcome? Probably. But at the same time, he brought his A game. You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. It’s all about bringing the effort.”

A winner of the 2018 Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga, Whitmore was second in last year’s Vanderbilt to Volatile.

“He was going to be the favorite for the Vanderbilt during his 4-year-old year, but we had to scratch him because he pawed from the airplane in Albany to here. He would have been a short price,” Moquett said. “We learned from that. He’s training us on how to train him and we learned that we need to move him well in advance or, if he’s going to be on a van, it’s going to be ours. Someone that won’t stop and just go straight through. He can’t do a milk run.”

Whitmore captured last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at 18-1 odds, after running a respective eighth [2017], second [2018] and third [2019] in the previous three runnings.

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