SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The Belmont Stakes winner came after him at the top of the stretch, and it was time for Wicked Strong to live up to his name. Maybe it was the addition of blinkers, maybe it was greater maturity, but this time he was wicked determined.
Despite a protracted, head-to-head duel with long shot Legend, Wicked Strong gave all he had to jockey Rajiv Maragh as the Saratoga crowd of 31,812 roared. The Wood Memorial winner turned back Tonalist, the 4-5 favorite, with authority in midstretch before drawing off to a 2¼-length victory Saturday in the Grade II, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes.
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"This is his second big win," Maragh said. "Tonalist made a bold run, but Wicked Strong responded and put him away."
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens swept the weekend's preps for the $1 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 23, having taken the Curlin Stakes with 8-1 V. E. Day on Friday.
Jerkens felt sure that first-time blinkers helped Wicked Strong focus better than he ever had. "It may have been my imagination," he said, "but I always thought he was running with his head cocked to one side. I didn't see that today."
Clearly, the blinkers injected speed into a horse who never had battled up front early. Breaking from the outside in a field of six, Wicked Strong went four-wide into the first turn, which made his soft-spoken trainer nervous. "I was a little worried he was going to get hung out," Jerkens said, "but Rajiv got him over just in time."
Maragh said going for the lead wasn't the intent, and that the race just shook out that way. "Being in a small field, we didn't have a specific plan," he said. "It depended on what he was going to give me."
This time, that was everything.
The son of Hard Spun paid $6.40 after running 11/8 miles on a fast track in 1:49.16 for only his third win in nine career starts. Since taking the Wood in early April he ran fourth in the Kentucky Derby and dead-heated for fourth with California Chrome in the Belmont.
He earned $360,000 Saturday, raising his bankroll to $1,244,610 for Centennial Farm. Kid Cruz finished third, 3¾ lengths behind Tonalist, Commanding Curve was fourth, Ulanbator fifth and Legend last.
Donald Little Jr., a Massachusetts man, owns Centennial Farm. He wanted to name his colt Boston Strong, but it was taken. "I thought when he was walking out of the paddock, he was on his game,'" Little said. "We knew he had another good race in him. I hope he's got one more."
Notes & quotes:Rosie Napravnik rallied wide with Coup de Grace ($5.70) to take the Grade II $200,000 Amsterdam Stakes by three lengths.
"I rode him with a lot of confidence," Napravnik said, "and he did it easily." The 6½-furlong time was 1:15.32 . . . Two-time defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan worked a leisurely 5 furlongs in 1:03.72 Friday on the training track's turf course. He hasn't run since undergoing emergency colic surgery May 16, and a clocker who preferred to remain anonymous said the 7-year-old gelding looked like "a shell of his old self." Trainer Charles LoPresti downplayed the slow time and said he has not targeted a race for his superstar's return . . . Javier Castellano has ridden 11 winners, one ahead of John Velazquez . . . Trainer Todd Pletcher has eight wins, four more than Mike Maker, Bill Mott and George Weaver . . . Mike Repole (three wins) is in a three-way tie atop the owners' standings with Chester Broman Sr. and Mary Broman, and Jim and Susan Hill.