Wicked Strong returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since the Wood Memorial Stakes when he turned aside Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist in the stretch of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
After finishing fourth in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Wicked Strong was given a short break by trainer Jimmy Jerkens and owner Centennial Farms to prepare for the marquee 3-year-old races of the summer.
If the Jim Dandy provided an accurate indication of his ability, Wicked Strong should be a formidable contender in the key races on the road to the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
"This is really great," Jerkens said. "The way he works in the morning, I don’t think Secretariat worked any better than this horse does in the morning. I know the talent’s there. It’s just getting him to put it all together."
The way he works in the morning, I don’t think Secretariat worked any better than this horse does in the morning. I know the talent’s there. It’s just getting him to put it all together.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens
Wicked Strong broke alertly in the Jim Dandy and raced nearer to the front than he had since winning his second career race in October 2013. The Hard Spun colt pressed front-running Legend through an opening quarter-mile in :24.45 and a half-mile in :47.73.
On the far turn, Wicked Strong launched his bid under Rajiv Maragh and took command. Tonalist and Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve closed in on the leader at the top of the stretch, but Tonalist could not collar in Wicked Strong, who spurted away to win by 2¼ lengths as the 2.20-to-1 second betting choice.
"It was a different dimension where he was up close to the pace and he didn’t get by that speed horse too easy," Jerkens said. "He had to run to get the best of him and then Tonalist was right there. I think he showed a lot of class today."
Tonalist held on for second as the heavy favorite in his first start since the Belmont Stakes.
Dwyer Stakes winner Kid Cruz rallied past Commanding Curve to finish third.
Wicked Strong completed 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.16 for his third win in nine career starts. The $360,000 winner’s share of the $600,000 purse boosted his career earnings to $1,244,610.
"He was very aggressive today; he put me in the race, which I was happy about," Maragh said. "Tonalist made a bold move, and I thought, ‘It’s going to be a good horse race’ from there, and Wicked Strong just dug in and found extra and pulled away at the end."
Centennial purchased Wicked Strong for $375,000 at the 2012 Keeneland September yearling sale. His dam (mother) is the winning Charismatic mare Moyne Abbey, who is a half-sister (same dam, different sire [father]) to three stakes winners, including multiple graded stakes winner Gulch Approval.
Wicked Strong probably will make his next start in the $1,250,000 Travers Stakes on Aug. 23 at Saratoga.