The Triple Crown took its usual toll, and we won't see I'll Have Another, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, or Belmont champ Union Rags again. With both retired because of injuries, another colt might win the division title with a strong summer and fall campaign.
The second season for 3-year-olds gets serious this weekend, when Saratoga hosts the $600,000, Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes Saturday, a day before Monmouth Park stages the $1-million, Grade I Haskell Invitational. Both are 11/8-mile preps for Saratoga's 1¼-mile Travers Stakes on Aug. 25.
Dale Romans, who trains Haskell contender Dullahan, knows it won't be easy to overtake I'll Have Another. "I don't think he'll be forgotten because he accomplished so much early in the year,'' Romans said. "But I think there are still some good 3-year-olds out there, like Dullahan and Paynter.''
Dullahan is after his first win on conventional dirt in six starts. He plodded in seventh in the Belmont, which Romans called a throwout because he disliked the track. If Dullahan fails again, Romans conceded he might switch him to turf, where he's been second twice. "We think he needs a big win on dirt for his stud book,'' he said. "I still think that on the right dirt track, he'll run big.''
The decision to ship Wood Memorial winner Gemologist to the Haskell raised its profile and diminished the Jim Dandy's. He hasn't raced since finishing 16th in the Derby, his only loss in six starts. He bruised his left foot that day, and workouts say he's back to his old self. Gemologist breezed 5 furlongs in 58 2/5 seconds Sunday at Saratoga. "It was a very impressive work,'' trainer Todd Pletcher said. "We wanted to make sure we were tight.''
Can Paynter's five opponents catch the colt who led until the Belmont's final yards? Five-time Haskell winner Bob Baffert trains the 3-2 morning-line favorite, with Gemologist and Dullahan next at 3-1. "I think Paynter will be out there on the lead,'' Romans said, "and we'll have to run him down.''
Alpha, second by a neck in the Wood, is the 5-2 favorite in an eight-horse Jim Dandy lacking marquee names. He's been off since finishing 12th in the Derby and is only 1-for-6 in graded stakes. Union Rags' former trainer, Michael Matz, will run the rapidly improving Teeth of the Dog.
"There's not one horse that's a standout,'' Matz said. "We've asked a lot of him this year, and he's handled himself pretty well. We'll see if he can propel himself into the Travers.''