07/28/2012 6:00PM

Saratoga: Alpha goes straight to the front and stays there to win Jim Dandy

Barbara D. Livingston
Alpha showed he will be a strong factor in the Aug. 25 Travers Stakes by scoring a front-running victory in the Jim Dandy.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - When trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Ramon Dominguez discussed the strategy they wanted to employ with Alpha in Saturday's Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, they both concluded they wanted to be forwardly placed.

When Alpha easily glided over the Saratoga slop to an uncontested lead entering the first turn, McLaughlin and Dominguez knew they made the right call.

Alpha used his early tactical advantage to cruise to a two-length victory in Saturday's $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes and make him one of the favorites for next month's $1 million Travers Stakes.

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Six of the last 11 Jim Dandy winners have come back to win the Travers, including Bernardini (2006), the sire of Alpha who won for the fourth time in eight career starts.

Neck 'n Neck, who raced in third position early, finished second by two lengths over Liaison. It was another 1 1/4 lengths back Teeth of the Dog in fourth. He was followed in the order of finish by My Adonis, Atigun, Fast Falcon, and Prospective.

Alpha, owned by Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum's Godolphin Racing, hadn't run since finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby on May 5. He spiked a temperature while preparing for the Belmont Stakes and was not entered in that race.

He shipped to Saratoga in mid-June and was training exceptionally well over the main track coming into the race. He ran like he trained.

Breaking from the rail Dominguez, Alpha floated to a one-length lead over Teeth of the Dog, under Joel Rosario, through an opening quarter in 24.40 seconds. Positions remained unchanged through a half in 49.30 and the race was basically over.

"When you're in the one hole here you need to go," McLaughlin said. "He thought the same way I did. He said if he breaks well I'm going. He wasn't going to rush him off his feet, but he wanted to be on the lead, so it was a great call and it all worked out."

Alpha got away with six furlongs in 1:14.03, so when Neck 'n Neck tried to make a run at him in the stretch, Alpha had plenty left to kick away. He did need some encouragement from Dominguez, who hit him twice left-handed and twice again right-handed in the stretch.

"I found myself in front and relaxed at the same time, very happy that I wasn't getting any immediate challenge, so I was able to get away with the slowest fractions you possibly can in this type of race," Dominguez said. "Turning for home when I felt the challenge . . . it seemed like it took him a couple of strides to keep going. Because he was so quiet I opened up my reins a couple of times and inside the eighth pole it felt like he kicked into another gear."

Alpha covered the 1 1-8 miles in 1:50.47 and returned $5.60 as the 8-5 favorite.

Ian Wilkes, the trainer of Neck 'n Neck, knew his horse's chances would be compromised by the slow pace, but was still happy with the way his horse ran and will point to the Travers.

"He took the initiative he went to the front and he won," Wilkes said of Alpha. "But I was very pleased, my horse ran great. This horse is still learning, he's getting it together."