SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- The winners of the last three renewals of the Jim Dandy Stakes have all gone on to capture the prestigious Travers four weeks later. Trainer Dallas Stewart is hoping that trend will continue for at least one more summer after his Macho Again outgamed 3-2 favorite Pyro to register a half-length victory in Sunday's Grade 2 Jim Dandy before a crowd of 38,748 at Saratoga.
Macho Again, winner of the Derby Trial and runner-up to division leader Big Brown in the Preakness, had not started since finishing 11 lengths behind Da' Tara in the Belmont Stakes. But the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Jim Dandy and a contentious pace that compromised Da' Tara's chances in Sunday's rematch played right into the hands of Stewart and Macho Again, a son of Macho Uno owned by West Point Thoroughbreds.
As expected, Da' Tara went right for the lead but was quickly joined by Mint Lane, the pair dueling head to head through fractions of 23.51 seconds and 46.94 over a track downgraded from fast to good following a mid-afternoon shower.
Mint Lane won the early battle from Da' Tara on the second turn but was readily overtaken by Tiz Now Tiz Then in upper stretch. Jockey Julien Leparoux reserved Macho Again within easy striking distance of the leaders while saving ground, but found himself blocked in briefly behind horses when trying to launch his bid leaving the quarter pole.
Macho Again finally extricated himself from traffic at the top of the stretch but had to alter course momentarily behind Tiz Now Tiz Then near the eighth pole. He eventually overtook that rival to gain the lead at midstretch, then had enough left to withstand a final surge from Pyro.
Pyro, forced to check when pinched back at the break, swung wide launching his rally leaving the final turn. He appeared to have enough momentum to overtake Macho Again nearing midstretch but could not sustain the bid. Tiz Now Tiz Then gradually weakened, finishing another three-quarters of a length farther back in third, followed by Tale of Ekati, Anak Nakal, Mint Lane and Da' Tara.
Macho Again, who paid $18.40, gave Stewart his first stakes win at Saratoga.
"He's a game little horse, and that was a pretty good field," said Stewart. "He beat the Belmont winner and the Louisiana Derby winner. The race developed just like it looked on paper, but he had a tough go from the quarter pole in. Once he got free he kicked in and it looked like he was going to win convincingly and then here comes Pyro with that late run. Fortunately he had enough left to hold him off."
Stewart said that as long as Macho Again comes out of the Jim Dandy in good order he'll point for the Travers on Aug. 23.
Da' Tara finished 24 lengths behind Macho Again while also making his first start since his upset victory in the Belmont.
"That was a suicide mission," trainer Nick Zito said, referring to the early pace duel with Mint Lane. "I don't know what that was all about."
Mambo in Seattle also likely earned himself a spot in the Travers with a game neck triumph over You and I Forever in the 1 1/8-mile Henry Walton Stakes just prior to the Jim Dandy. It was another 12 1/2 lengths farther back to Amped, who finished third.
The victory was the third in a row for Mambo in Seattle, a homebred son of Kingmambo trained by Neil Howard for Mrs. William Kilroy and William Farish.
Saratoga, 10th Race - July 27, 2008