That Jesus’ Team is running in a race named after Alydar is rather apt; a case of history going in circles rather than a straight line.
First things first, however. Friday’s Alydar, named after the horse who finished second to Affirmed in all three legs of the 1978 Triple Crown, is for 4-year-olds and up who haven’t won a stakes race, other than a state-bred, this year. It sends its eight contestants 1 1/8 miles around Saratoga’s main course.
It also brings Jesus’ Team back to stakes company. In his last time out, he ran a poor fifth in a Gulfstream Park handicap race in mid-July. And it brings him back to Saratoga for the first time since he finished third in last year’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy.
Along with his second in the Pegasus Stakes, the Jim Dandy served as Jesus’ Team’s breakout race. He surrendered the lead down the stretch to Mystic Guide and Liveyourbeastlife, finishing third by 1 ½ lengths, but even so, the race vaulted the Tapiture colt to the peak of his career to date.
Jesus’ Team used summer as a spring into fall
From there, Jesus’ Team finished third in the Preakness to Swiss Skydiver and Authentic. He rode that into a second at the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile to Knicks Go. That vaulted Jesus’ Team to his first stakes win, the Claiming Crown Jewel Stakes. And that, in turn, sent him into another runner-up to Knicks Go, that coming in the Pegasus World Cup Invitational.
Seconds to Knicks Go in two Grade 1 races, with a Preakness third to two eventual Hall of Fame horses, and a stakes win thrown in — it’s no wonder Jesus’ Team is running in a race named after Alydar.
The Hall of Fame horse is the perfect example of a truly great horse overshadowed by one of the sport’s icons (see Sham and Secretariat for the 1973 version of this phenomenon). Affirmed won seven of his 10 meetings with Alydar, but in those 10 meetings, the two went 1-2 in nine of them. It wasn’t Alydar’s fault he was foaled in 1975, the same year as Affirmed.
Alydar set a high bar for any Thoroughbred
It’s a taffy-pulling stretch to compare Jesus’ Team to Alydar, who won 14 races in 26 career starts. Those scores included the Flamingo Stakes, Florida Derby, and Blue Grass when all three were Grade 1s. They also included the Grade 1 Arlington Classic, Grade 2 (then) Whitney, and Grade 1 Travers in a 27-day span during the summer of 1978. In those 26 starts, Alydar finished in the exacta 23 times.
Jesus’ Team? He’s 3-5-3 in 16 starts, and he’s still looking for his first graded-stakes win. But Jesus’ Team finished second in two Grade 1s to one of the greatest horses of his class.
He ran credibly in both, clocking a 102 Beyer Speed Figure in the Dirt Mile. Along his path from a $35,000 claimer to a Grade 1 placer, he’s beaten Grade 1 winners such as Rushie, Code of Honor, War of Will, and Math Wizard.
Putting Jesus’ Team back on track is the goal
So in a roundabout, history-as-a-circle way, Jesus’ Team belongs in a race named after Alydar. Trainer Jose D’Angelo opted for the Alydar ahead of Saturday’s flagship race, the Whitney. He did so after Jesus’ Team lost some of his late 2020 momentum after finishing sixth in the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in late March. That preceded his fifth in that handicap, which came after a four-month break.
“That last race, for sure, he needed,” D’Angelo told the New York Racing Association. “After quarantine coming back from Dubai, he lost a little weight. It was a little hard to (improve) his conditioning again. He needed that race to be the horse he is now. He’s bigger than this last race, and in that race, he was a little too close to the front. I think it helped him get fit, though, and we’re looking forward to this race.”