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Aug 03, 2012

Up the Backstretch: Three-year-olds start second season

By: By Don Agriss, Horse Racing Editor

(Sports Network) - The second half of the 2012 racing season for three-year- olds began this past weekend with a pair of dominating victories. Since the two horses that won the Triple Crown races are both retired, the division crown is still up for grabs.

First up Saturday at Saratoga was the Jim Dandy Stakes. Seven three-year-olds went to the post with Wood Memorial runner-up Alpha the 9-5 favorite. Ridden by Ramon Dominguez, Alpha quickly took the lead and led the entire 1 1/8 miles on a sloppy track.

Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin for Godolphin Racing, the colt repulsed any challenge and hit the wire two lengths ahead of Neck 'n Neck.

"He was superb all the way around there," said Dominguez. "Turning for home when I shook him up, he just took off for me. It's an indication he'll handle farther, and I love the way he was handling himself prior to and after the race."

"It was a great run, everything went as planned," McLaughlin said. "We weren't sure -- Plan A, from the one hole, was to break, be forwardly placed, and if nobody's going too fast, [I told Dominguez], 'I'd love to see you on the lead. If they go fast, then maybe we'll sit in behind them.' He broke great, that was a big plus. When I looked at the tote board to see the half in :49, I was liking that, and I liked three-quarters in 1:14."

Early this year, Alpha established himself as a solid contender for the Kentucky Derby. He won the Count Fleet and Withers at Aqueduct and was second to Gemologist in the Wood Memorial. However, he could do no better than 12th in the Run for the Roses and was given time off until the Jim Dandy.

"We had a little hiccup before the Belmont, spiked a temperature, and we agreed to stop," said Godolphin representative Jimmy Bell. "We talked to [racing manager] Simon Crisford and he said, 'You know what, don't be pushing this. Give him the time off. Go to Saratoga and let's see if we can do something in the Jim Dandy that will give us a reason to look forward to the Travers.' We followed instructions well, and so did the horse."

Hopefully in the Travers on Aug. 25, Alpha will take on Haskell Invitational champ Paynter. Owned by Zayat Stables, Paynter used a stalking run to record a 3 3/4 length win over Nonios as the even-money favorite at Monmouth Park.

Trained by Bob Baffert, Paynter was making his first start since coming in second to Union Rags in the Belmont Stakes.

"It was nice to finally get a big win for Zayat (Stables) and with (jockey) Rafael Bejarano," Baffert noted from California. It was Baffert's sixth Haskell victory.

Paynter was actually a substitute in the race for Bodemeister who fell ill recently and was withdrawn from the Haskell. Where and when Bodemeister will run next is undecided.

Coming up this weekend is the West Virginia Derby featuring Hansen. A win by last year's champion two-year-old will give added luster if he, Alpha and Paynter all start in the Travers.

"You have to take each race as a different race," McLaughlin said. "Everybody says, 'What about the Travers? You going to go to the lead?' We don't know. We don't know what post we draw, if Hansen shows up, Paynter shows up, we're probably not on the lead. But, we'll deal with that when we get there."

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