But Pyro’s flame flickered out as quickly as it had ignited. Sent off as the even-money favorite in the Blue Grass Stakes, he finished 10th in a 12-horse field, beaten 11 ½ lengths over Polytrack. Three weeks later, he clunked home eighth, a dull 15 lengths behind Big Brown at Churchill Downs.
Having returned to the races with a victory in the Grade 3 Northern Dancer at Churchill Downs in June, Pyro will now get a chance to reestablish himself among his peers when he faces seven three-year-olds, including Belmont Stakes winner Da’ Tara, in Sunday’s 45th edition of the Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. Sunday will also be the first giveaway day of the meet with patrons receiving a free Saratoga baseball cap with each paid admission, while supplies last..
“I don’t think he ran well on the synthetic in the Blue Grass and I did too much immediately off of it, and shook his confidence,” said Asmussen. “Now we’ll get that bad training job out of the way and get him back to who he is.”
Standing in the way will be a bevy of three-year-olds who, like Pyro, are hoping to use the Jim Dandy as a stepping stone to the Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes presented by Shadwell Farm here on Saturday, August 23. Since 1960, eight horses have completed the Jim Dandy-Travers double, including the last three in Street Sense, Bernardini and Flower Alley.
And with an eye on the “Mid-Summer Derby,” which he won in 2004 with Birdstone, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito will be sending out both Da’ Tara and Anak Nakal, who dead-heated for third with Ready’s Echo behind his stablemate and who will be ridden for the first time by John Velazquez.
“Both horses need to run in the Jim Dandy, and they need to run well,” said Zito. “They are both a bit behind Birdstone as far as training goes at this point, but if they can both run well on Sunday, it would put them right where they should be to be sharp for the Travers.”
Also coming out of the Belmont are Tale of Ekati, the Wood Memorial winner who was sixth behind Da’ Tara and who will enjoy the services of Edgar Prado, and West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again, the Preakness runner-up who was fifth, beaten 11 lengths.
“He enjoyed a little bit of a break,” said trainer Dallas Stewart of Macho Again, to be ridden by Julien Leparoux. “We didn’t give him total time off but he jogged and galloped. He got his energy back up. He kind of picked his way back up and he’s certainly enjoying himself up here.”
A newcomer to the mix is the speedy Mint Lane, who finished second to the Japanese horse Casino Drive in the Grade 2 Peter Pan and then went on to score front-running victories in the overnight Postponed on June 13 and the Grade 2 Dwyer on July 6. Although the Jim Dandy will be his third start in 45 days, trainer Jimmy Jerkens feels the son of Maria’s Mon is up to the challenge.
“People have knocked him because he’s had everything his own way, but I don’t agree with that,” said Jerkens, who will give a leg up to Eibar Coa. “A lot of horses took shots at him, and they finished up the track while he kept going. You don’t necessarily like a horse to be one-dimensional, but on the other hand, they’re legitimate fractions. It’s not like he was plodding along.”
In the Postponed, Mint Lane led through an opening half in 47 2/5, drawing off to win by nearly six in 1:42 3/5; while in the Dwyer, after a half in 46 2/5, he scored by 2 ¾ lengths over Tizbig.
Rounding out the field are the Eoin Harty-trained Tiz Now Tiz Then, who lost his first six starts and then won three straight, including the Iowa Derby, and Alaazo, a winner of two of his four starts who will be making his stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.
The field for Sunday’s 45th running of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes:
PP Horse Jockey Weight Trainer
1 Tiz Now Tiz Then Miguel Mena 117 Eoin Harty
2 Anak Nakal John Velazquez 119 Nicholas Zito
3 Mint Lane Eibar Coa 121 James Jerkens
4 Pyro Shaun Bridgmohan 121 Steve Asmussen
5 Tale of Ekati Edgar Prado 123 Barclay Tagg
6 Da’ Tara Alan Garcia 123 Nicholas Zito
7 Macho Again Julien Leparoux 115 Dallas Stewart
8 Alaazo Kent Desormeaux 115 William Mott