SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Front-runners on the dirt had gone 4-for-4 Saturday at the Spa, so when Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming opened a 3 1⁄2-length lead after a half-mile in a leisurely 48.53 seconds, the Jim Dandy Stakes looked over. It wasn’t.
On the far turn, Preakness champion Cloud Computing and second-time starter Pavel made a race of it, and from far back, Good Samaritan was beginning to roll. As his four rivals battled head to head, 8-1 shot Good Samaritan blew past them inside the eighth pole to win by 4 3⁄4 lengths over 14-1 Giuseppe the Great.
So in the first Jim Dandy featuring the Derby and Preakness winners since 1991, a colt making his dirt debut dominated, even-money Always Dreaming was third and 6-5 Cloud Computing finished last, losing a three-way photo for show.
A week after 2016 Horse of the Year Arrogate, the world’s top-rated thoroughbred, finished fourth at Del Mar, weirdness reigned again in a sport that never stops reminding us that there are no sure things. But betting Bill Mott on July 29 comes close. For the 16th time in the past 24 years, the 64-year-old Hall of Famer trained a winner on his birthday. As the old saying goes, “If you have a hunch, bet a bunch,” and anyone playing the Mott angle collected $19.20.
Happy birthday, Bill, what a surprise party it was.
So the long-term trend that ignored logic paid off and the short-term trend based on empirical evidence (inside speed) was worthless. That’s horse racing, folks.
“He grew wings through the stretch,” Mott said. “He was flying by them, and I think he’ll be a major player in the 3-year-old division on the dirt.”
Todd Pletcher, Always Dreaming’s trainer and perennial master of Saratoga, was going for a 5-for-5 day but lost the race he wanted most. Pletcher admitted his colt’s performance left him “a little confused.” He was far from alone.
“He caught a flyer out of the gate, and the fractions were very reasonable,” Pletcher said. “But despite that, Johnny [Velazquez] said he never really relaxed for him.”
Conversely, Good Samaritan plodded along in last under Joel Rosario for 6 furlongs. The Equibase chart caller was impressed with his leisurely approach, writing: Good Samaritan “took a serene, almost Buddhist-like approach to the early part of the race, loping along while saving ground detached at the tail of a compact field.”
Cosmic, man. When it’s Mott’s birthday and his horse is in Zen mode, how could Good Samaritan lose? Maybe his biblical name helped, too.
Elliott Walden, CEO of co-owner WinStar Farm, had wanted to put Good Samaritan on the main track since last November.
“Elliott had been trying to get me to run him on the dirt since the Breeders’ Cup,” Mott said. “I kept holding off on it.”
The colt needed a few months off because of a minor injury and missed the Triple Crown preps, so he stayed on turf. Finally, after Good Samaritan ran fourth July 8 in the 1 1⁄4-mile Belmont Derby, his fourth straight loss, Mott decided to point him for the Jim Dandy.
“This was a terrific race for him,” Mott said. “The pace was a little slower than I thought it would be, and I was a little concerned about that. I couldn’t be more pleased with the way he ran. He ran into a very slow pace and finished well.”
Good Samaritan went 1 1⁄8 miles in 1:50.69 after being geared down by Rosario in the final 70 yards. He improved to 3-for-7 lifetime and earned $360,000, raising his total to $767,616.
Walden, a low-key, religious guy, had a blessed day. “I’m not going to say I knew he was going to win,’’ he said, “but I thought he had a chance.’’
As for the race for the 3-year-old championship, Walden said: “Good Samaritan won with authority, so I think that really jumbles it up. We’ll see what happens Sunday in the Haskell.”