07/26/2012 4:57PM

King: Liaison on the up and up in Jim Dandy

Benoit & Associates
Liaison (right), finishing second to Nonios in the Affirmed, runs in Saturday's Jim Dandy at Saratoga.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – If one were to plot the form of Liaison on a chart, his performances would look like an inverted bell curve. He won a pair of stakes at 2, capped by a victory in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity, then essentially fell off a cliff, going unplaced in four straight races. He then climbed back up with a second in the Affirmed and a third in the Swaps.

Now the question is, how much more, if at all, will his ascent continue? My guess: to the point of becoming the winner of Saturday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga.

Liaison’s improving form points to continued development, as does his recent training. On Monday at Del Mar, he breezed six furlongs in 1:12.40.

Set up as a target for Paynter, the Belmont runner-up and Sunday’s Haskell favorite, Liaison broke off well in front, and though Paynter clocked the fastest time for the distance in 1:11.80, Liaison did not yield ground in the final furlong, although Paynter was under encouragement.

Trainer Bob Baffert said he may have erred in giving Liaison too much of a head start on Paynter, calling Paynter a “pretty lazy workhorse.”

Or perhaps Liaison is simply peaking.

Nothing in Paynter’s worktab suggests he is lazy – quite the opposite, in fact. Paynter has recorded six consecutive bullet workouts and has been the darling of West Coast clockers this year. Of the two, Liaison has been much more likely to post a slower work-time. And yet he recorded the more impressive drill.

Last workout aside, there are other factors to like, such as back class and winning connections. Baffert knows when to put his horses on a plane for cross-country travel, and rarely do they disappoint. One need only recall his meet at Oaklawn this year, when shipper after shipper scored for him there.

Liaison also fits in terms of the competition, with the Jim Dandy essentially drawing second-tier 3-year-olds.

Of the seven opponents facing Liaison, only Atigun hit the board in a Triple Crown race this year, finishing third in the Belmont. That strong performance may have been more the result of 1 1/2-mile staying power than sheer talent.

The Belmont aside, Atigun has only been competitive in maiden and allowance races – not in stakes races.

Good alternative in Mystic Lake

Sticking with the 3-year-olds, the $150,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury sets up as an intriguing race going a mile on the turf.

Among its entrants: Delegation, perfect in two starts at Woodbine while scoring at odds-on prices; Hammers Terror, who ran a 92 Beyer Speed Figure the last time he raced a mile on turf, doing so in winning the Charlie Barley at Woodbine; and another turf stakes winner, Gung Ho, who most notably was third this spring behind Dullahan and Hansen in the Grade 1 Blue Grass on Polytrack.

Yet those three horses have weaknesses. Delegation is by speed sire Speightstown and unraced beyond six furlongs; Hammers Terror is being wheeled back on two weeks’ rest after a disappointing fourth at Woodbine in the Toronto Cup; and Gung Ho hasn’t raced since going unplaced in the May 4 American Turf, plus has recorded just two published works since mid-June.

That leaves North of Never as a quality alternative. A horse that has made all of his starts in turf routes, he romped in fast time in an allowance at Churchill Downs last month, a race that followed a close fourth in the Arlington Classic behind turf beast Silver Max.

Look for him to stick to his 7-2 morning line, making him an overlay.

Duchess sets up for rallier

After playing a dirt race, the Jim Dandy, and a turf race, the Mystic Lake Derby, let’s complete the circuit of surfaces with Saturday’s Duchess Stakes on the Polytrack at Woodbine.

A seven-furlong dash for 3-year-old fillies, it drew an abundance of speed, which could leave the 8-5 favorite, front-running Man Stuff, vulnerable from her inside post.

From that position, she will probably take heat throughout on her outside and could very well end up having to go faster than she has in recent Polytrack starts.

Such a scenario would play to the strength of late-running Katie Get Excited, who cuts back to her best distance of seven furlongs after flattening out a bit in her last two while racing two turns.

Seven furlongs is her game, and she’s a filly who has already proved her effectiveness with long sustained rallies on the outside – just the kind of trip she figures to get, breaking from post 8 in a field of nine in the Duchess.

Anthony Tyler More than 1 year ago
Bafferts giving Martin G mounts again? I thought they broke-up? Anyways, Baffert is a hall of famer, and everything he has shipped out of town this year has fired big time. I'll take Liaison, narrowly over Teeth of the dog, and Alpha.
Pat More than 1 year ago
By many...pound this horse at he windows till you fingers bleed...
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
I think Liason has a shot, my ten cent super boxed will be as follows plus order I hope they will come in...(7-2-16-61
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Remember Don, that 'Dog' and Alpha both were nearly knocked on their butts in The Wood and recovered to run 2 - 3... Good Luck to all...
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Two400 More than 1 year ago
Liaison does not have one competitive race on dirt except for his slow maiden win.
Linda Piscitelli-Spinosa More than 1 year ago
yeah ok keep dreaming well either does Alpha then. His wood race was awful. Tell me about a good race by Alpha. At least Liason is improving and working out well. He has a lot more upside then any other horse in this race besides neck n neck.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
He did run 6th in the Kentucky Derby breaking way outside. And when he got some decent pace in the San Felipe, he ran well. Baffert said both Liaison and 4 year old Prayer for Relief just didn't care for the Santa Anita dirt. I don't know if it's a matter of synth or dirt. For example, I think Liaison is probably better on dirt than he would be on Del Mar's Poly. No, I think it's about the Hollywood Cushion, as in Liaison could be a horse for course. He ran well at Santa Anita on dirt at 2, but better on Cushion. He ran well in the San Felipe on dirt and very respectable on dirt in the Kent Derby this year, but better in the Affirmed and Swaps on Cushion.
Linda Piscitelli-Spinosa More than 1 year ago
well well well someone finally wrote a true article on the only horse who can beat neck n neck. about time there is some logic going on in here. Alpha and the whole wood memorial is a joke as well as Teeth of the Dog's pig races. Neck N Neck over Liason and reverse just to cover my behind. Two horse race.
Phil D More than 1 year ago
Liaison and Neck' n Neck are definitely my top two, looking at Atigun and Teeth of the Dog, leaning more to Atigun because he will be a nice price, 8 to 1 I'll take it
dave More than 1 year ago
Teeth of the Dog and Alpha will be the horses to play...
Greg More than 1 year ago
Linda that might be the dumbest comment I've seen on this site.. You make 0 sense.. BTW- Teeth of dog wins
dave More than 1 year ago
I guess you were wrong about Alpha