By RICHARD ROSENBLATT, Associated Press
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — The Spa can work wonders for some racehorses. It sure was a big boost for Alpha.
Taking the lead from the start, Alpha cruised to a two-length, wire-to-wire victory in the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday for his first victory in nearly six months.
Alpha won at Saratoga in his first career start, and has been training at the Spa since mid-June after missing the Belmont Stakes because of a fever.
"He's really done very well since the Belmont incident, so we knew he was ready," winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "He's been training great."
Sent off as the 9-5 favorite in a field of eight 3-year-olds, Alpha had little trouble handling a sloppy track. Jockey Ramon Dominguez gunned Alpha to the front right out of the No. 1 gate. Teeth of the Dog gave chase but faded to fourth, and Neck 'n Neck loomed in the stretch but was easily dispatched by Alpha.
"He was superb all the way around there," Dominguez said. "Turning for home when I shook him up, he just took off for me. It's an indication he'll handle farther."
It was Alpha's first win since the Withers on Feb. 4, which was followed by a runner-up finish in the Wood Memorial and a 12th-place run in the Derby. Now, the colt should head into the $1 million Travers Stakes on Aug. 25 with a chance to stamp himself as a top horse in the division following the retirements of Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another and Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags because of injuries.
"Hopefully, everything goes well for the next four weeks," McLaughlin said.
The decision to give Alpha a break after he spiked a temperature was just what the doctor ordered. Jimmy Bell of owner Godolphin Racing said racing manager Simon Crisford told him not to push the horse.
"Give him the time off," Crisford told Bell. "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," Bell said, "and so did the horse."
Alpha has now won four of eight races, and earned $360,000 for the victory that boosted his career totals to $860,000.
Neck 'n Neck finished second, with Liaison third and Teeth of the Dog fourth. My Adonis was fifth, followed by Atigun, Fast Falcon and Prospective.
Alpha returned $5.60, $3.70 and $3.20. Neck 'n Neck paid $4.50 and $4.10, and Liaison returned $4.20 to show. The winning time for 1 1/8 miles was 1:50.47.
The decision to go right for the lead was an easy one.
"Here, when you get in the one hole, you have to go," said McLaughlin. "Ramon thought the same way I did and said, 'If he breaks well, I'm going.' I said, 'I'm all for that.' So it was a great call and it all worked out."
Ian Wilkes, who trains Neck 'n Neck, gave Alpha credit, especially since his horse came into the Jim Dandy off two impressive victories, including a 7 1/4-length victory in the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs last month.
"The horse took the initiative, he went to the front and he won," said Wilkes of Alpha. "But I was very pleased that my horse ran great. This horse is getting better."
Earlier, 8-5 favorite Winter Memories surged into the lead at the top of stretch and won the $600,000 Diana on the turf for her eighth victory in 12 career starts. The 4-year-old gray filly beat Dream Peace by 1 1/2 lengths.
"I'm very fortunate to ride this filly," winning rider Javier Castellano said. "She's very honest. She's a nice filly."
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