07/21/2012 2:14PM

Saratoga: Atigun sharpens for Jim Dandy

Barbara D. Livingston
Atigun (left), working in company with Hogue on Saturday, breeezes five furlongs in 1:01.88 in preparation for the Jim Dandy.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Atigun’s third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes was a breakthrough race for the steadily improving 3-year-old. Now trainer Ken McPeek has come to Saratoga hoping for even bigger and better things from Atigun, beginning with Saturday’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy.

Atigun turned in his final prep for the Jim Dandy shortly after the renovation break here on Saturday, working five furlongs in 1:01.88 in company with stablemate Hogue. Regular rider Julien Leparoux was aboard for the drill.

“I thought he worked super. It might have been as impressive as he’s ever worked in his career,” said McPeek.

“He did that extremely easy and that’s a pretty nice horse that was on his inside and he just galloped away from him.”

[Complete coverage of racing at Saratoga: News, PPs, and video]

Atigun rebounded from a distant fifth-place finish behind Bodemeister in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby with a last-to-first allowance win three weeks later at Churchill Downs. That performance gave McPeek the confidence to try Atigun in the Belmont Stakes, where he outran his 20-1 odds by finishing just two lengths behind Union Rags despite being forced to angle wide on the final turn.

“We feel like we’ve got him right where we want him coming into this thing [Jim Dandy] although I think the Travers is going to be a distance that suits him a little better,” said McPeek. “We figured he’d make a run at them in the Belmont. I would have loved to have seen Julien stay inside a little longer and have the inside trip Union Rags ended up with. It might have been the difference in winning and losing. He’s improving. He just keeps coming and coming. But he needs a lot of distance.”

Atigun was one of two prospective Jim Dandy starters to work here Saturday, along with Alpha, who breezed an easy half-mile in 49.58 for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

“I loved the way he did it, ears straight up,” McLaughlin said. “After going 58-and-four [last week] we were looking not to do too much.”

A field of six or seven 3-year-olds is expected for the Jim Dandy and also expected to include Gemologist, Neck ‘N Neck, Prospective, and Teeth of the Dog.

Trainer Mark Casse said Prospective, who is stabled at Woodbine, will ship here on Monday. Prospective, exiting an easy victory in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on July 7, breezed an easy five furlongs in 1:02.80 over the synthetic surface at Woodbine on Friday.

“I think his last race might have been his best. Figure-wise and everything it was,” said Casse. “He had such a horrendous trip in the Derby I wanted to give him a confidence builder and we did that at Woodbine. But I also wanted to get a dirt race into him before this one and not wait six weeks until the Dwyer. So we went to Ohio and it worked out well.”

Jackson Bend will target Forego

Trainer Nick Zito said Jackson Bend came out of his fourth-place finish in Friday’s Grade 3 James Marvin in good order. Jackson Bend, the defending champ, was beaten three lengths by pacesetting winner Pacific Ocean in the James Marvin despite racing wide throughout.

“You add up the lengths he got beat and look at the trip and add up how wide he was and he really didn’t run that bad,” said Zito. “He doesn’t like to be wide. He’s a fighter. He wants to be in the mix. He likes to do those things. He likes to come inside, come between horses. He likes to get into the fray. He doesn’t like to be out in left field. When he’s out there he gets lost.”

Zito said the plan now is to regroup and bring Jackson Bend back next month to defend his title in the Grade 1 Forego.

Ruler On Ice finds allowance spot

Trainer Kelly Breen said Friday, after Ruler On Ice worked a half-mile from the gate, that the 2011 Belmont winner was ready to run. And it didn’t take Breen long to find a spot for Ruler On Ice to launch his comeback, an optional $95,000 claiming race here Wednesday.

A field of seven was entered to go 1 1/8 miles in Wednesday’s co-feature and also includes Pleasant Prince, Joan’s Choice, Praetereo, Schoolyard Dreams, Cease, and Golden Gulch.