07/28/2011 3:44PM

Saratoga: Dominus, Alternation aim to show their class in Jim Dandy

Barbara D. Livingston
Alternation trains Wednesday at Saratoga as he prepares for a start in Saturday's Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – That neither Dominus nor Alternation participated in the Triple Crown series was not a result of their connections thinking they didn’t have the talent to compete with the best of their generation.

In the case of Dominus, bad luck resulted in the horse not getting started on his 3-year-old season until late March. In the case of Alternation, a conservative approach prompted his connections to keep the Peter Pan Stakes winner out of the Belmont Stakes for which he likely would have been among the favorites.

With the second half of the year under way, and with many of the top 3-year-olds either sidelined or racing in Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational, Dominus and Alternation finally get their chance to make an impression in the 3-year-old division when they run in Saturday’s Grade 2, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.

The Jim Dandy, the local prep for the $1 million Travers Stakes here Aug. 27, shares billing with the Grade 1 Diana Stakes for fillies and mares on the turf on an 11-race card that begins at 1 p.m. Eastern. Both graded stakes will be shown live on the cable network Versus, beginning at 5 p.m.

A field of seven was entered for the Jim Dandy, including Gotham winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up Stay Thirsty and Blue Grass Stakes winner and Belmont third-place finisher Brilliant Speed. But it is Dominus and Alternation who look more intriguing.

Dominus, a son of Smart Strike owned by Stonestreet Stables, George Bolton, and B. Wayne Hughes, was away from the races for six months from last September to March 26 due in large part due to a cut suffered on a hind leg in a stall accident at Churchill Downs.

After winning a maiden race at Santa Anita in March and running second in the Derby Trial in April, Dominus suffered a bruised foot that kept him out of the Matt Winn at Churchill in June. Instead, he ran in and won the Grade 2 Dwyer at Belmont on July 2.

While Dominus has shown speed in all three of his races, trainer Steve Asmussen doesn’t believe that has to be his running style. Asmussen said Dominus took advantage of races lacking speed.

“He’s not a horse you think is a speed horse, but he’s been in three races in a row where the opening fraction was very moderate, especially for the circumstances where you were at,” Asmussen said.

It looked like Dominus was going to be the lone speed in the Jim Dandy until trainer Jim Baker and the Pattons Creek Farm decided to enter the speedy Will’s Wildcat, who also wa entered in Friday’s Curlin Stakes. Baker said Thursday he is leaning toward running Will’s Wildcat in the Jim Dandy, adding “he’ll definitely be a factor on the front end either day.”

If Will’s Wildcat does run in the Jim Dandy, that could benefit Alternation, who has been most effective when able to sit back and make one run. Alternation, trained by Donnie Von Hemel for Josephine Abercrombie’s Pin Oak Stud, was set to join the Triple Crown trail last spring but was scratched out of the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn when he acted up in the gate. After running fifth in the Arkansas Derby, Alternation was pointed to the Peter Pan, where he came from six lengths back to win by a head.

Von Hemel believes his horse can adapt to whatever the pace scenario will be, and he firmly believes his horse belongs with this group of 3-year-olds.

“He’s that caliber of horse,” said Von Hemel, who won his first race at Saratoga on Thursday with Ha Ha Tonka. “Sometimes, we ship back for races and you don’t feel like you have enough horse. I don’t have that feeling at all this time. I feel we brought enough horse. If we get a little racing luck, we can sure be a factor in the race.”

Brilliant Speed won the Blue Grass and then ran seventh in the Kentucky Derby, beaten 5 1/2 lengths, and was third in the Belmont, beaten 2 1/4 lengths. The cutback in distance and the appearance of pace should give Brilliant Speed a chance.

Stay Thirsty has shown an affinity for Saratoga, with a maiden win and a runner-up finish in the Hopeful. Scotus comes off a win in the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill. Moonshine Mullin won the Victoria Park at Woodbine and makes his dirt debut in this spot.