Proving not all graded stakes winners are viewed equally, Saturday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga features five graded stakes winners in the six-horse field.

Essential Quality-Jim Dandy
Essential Quality hasn’t raced since edging Hot Rod Charlie in the June 5 Belmont Stakes. He is the prohibitive favorite to win his fourth graded stakes race of 2021, Saturday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga. (Image: Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

None of them are viewed through the prism of expectations as Essential Quality. The Belmont Stakes champion comes in as the 1/2 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, one of three graded stakes on Saturday’s Saratoga card. He returns to the track 57 days after capturing that Belmont in exhilarating fashion, grabbing his third Grade 1 victory and sixth win in seven starts.

That odds-on morning line surprises nobody, least of all trainer Brad Cox. Essential Quality went off as the favorite in six of his seven starts. The only time he didn’t find the winner’s circle was in that cavalry dash of a Kentucky Derby, where he finished fourth by just over a length.

“I’m assuming he’ll be a short price on Saturday and when you’re a short price, there’s always pressure,” Cox told the New York Racing Association. “It’s one of those things where you are excited about it, but you almost want to have things go your way and get it over it from a trainer’s view of it. I’m excited. There is pressure, but it’s good to be in position to have that pressure on you. It means you’re in a good spot.”

Essential Quality anxious to get back in the gate

Essential Quality comes into the Jim Dandy, the prep for the Aug. 28 Grade 1 Travers Stakes, in a very good spot. Cox worked the Tapit colt out once a week in July, the last time coming on July 24. In that final work, Essential Quality clocked a 1:00.90 breeze for five furlongs, fourth out of the 30 horses covering that distance that day.

“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 [his] 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.”

So are horseplayers, figuring here’s a free-spot on their Saturday horizontal wagers. But there are five other horses set to run against Essential Quality, starting with 4/1 second-choice Masqueparade. The Ohio Derby winner will take on his share of wagers from value-hungry bettors banking on Saratoga’s “Graveyard of Champions” reputation to kick in here.

Masqueparade finds Jim Dandy a deeper pool

Speaking of odds, Masqueparade’s got hammered in that Ohio Derby. He opened on the morning line at 8/1 and by post time, he was at 2/1. His Beyer Speed Figures increased 24 points in four races, from a 74 in his third-place maiden special weight finish in February to a 98 for his Ohio Derby win. He’ll need that speed uptick for his stalking style to produce in this field.

That brings us to one of the more intriguing candidates, Weyburn (6/1). Last seen finishing a neck behind Mandaloun in the Pegasus at Monmouth Park, this Pioneerof the Nile colt only missed the board once in five races. That came in the Wood Memorial when his pressing style ran out of gas in the stretch. Otherwise, Weyburn’s signature win came in the Grade 3 Gotham at 46/1.

“I think the last race did him a lot of good,” trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. “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.”

Keepmeinmind is back for the sixth time in 2021

Then, there’s Keepmeinmind (6/1).  Everyone’s favorite manic-depressive colt returns after finishing third by a half-length to Masqueparade and King Fury in that Ohio Derby. This deep closer does have a Grade 2 win on his resume: last year’s Kentucky Jockey Club.

He also has zero wins in five 2021 races on that resume. To be fair, all of Keepmeinmind’s races but his debut were graded stakes against this kind of company. To be honest, he’s the type of horse who has an exacta or trifecta placing as his ceiling in this company.

Grade 2 Jim Dandy/Saratoga

Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)

  1. Dr Jack, 15/1 (Jose Ortiz/Todd Pletcher)
  2. Masqueparade, 4/1 (Miguel Mena/Al Stall Jr.)
  3. Weyburn, 6/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Jimmy Jerkens)
  4. Keepeminmind, 6/1 (Joel Rosario/Robertino Diodoro)
  5. Essential Quality, 1/2 (Luis Saez/Brad Cox)
  6. Risk Taking, 15/1 (Manny Franco/Chad Brown)

The final graded stakes winner is another manic-depressive colt, Risk Taking (15/1), who won the Grade 3 Withers in early February. Since then, he’s finished seventh in the Wood Memorial and eighth in the Preakness. En route, his Equibase Speed Figures regressed from the 102 in the Withers to a 90 in the Wood to a 70 in the Preakness.

The pick: Essential Quality. Weyburn and Masqueparade could win with a perfect race and a heretofore unseen B-minus/C-plus trip from Essential Quality. That’s about what it would take. Essential Quality’s overall quality, speed, style, and versatility is simply more than anyone else in this field possesses.