07/26/2012 2:39PM

Saratoga: Teeth of the Dog on roll for Jim Dandy

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Barbara D. Livingston
Teeth of the Dog comes into the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes off of wins in the Easy Goer Stakes and Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – In a perfect world, trainer Michael Matz would be taking Union Rags to Monmouth Park for Sunday’s $1 million Haskell while pointing Teeth of the Dog to next weekend’s $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer.

In the imperfect world that is horse racing, Matz has had to make a different plan.

A suspensory injury has prematurely ended the career of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, prompting Matz and owner Jose Singer to run Teeth of the Dog in Saturday’s Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga.

“Anytime you have a horse like this that you could point to something like that it sure helps,” said Matz, who is still stinging from the retirement of Union Rags.

Teeth of the Dog, winner of the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont four weeks ago, is one of eight 3-year-olds entered in the Jim Dandy, the local prep for the $1 million Travers Stakes here Aug. 25.

With Wood Memorial winner Gemologist opting to run in Sunday’s Haskell, the Jim Dandy became a more wide-open affair. Alpha, the Wood runner-up and a multiple stakes winner during the winter at Aqueduct; Neck ’n Neck, who has won his last two in dominant fashion; and Teeth of the Dog, who also won an overnight stakes on Belmont Day; could all vie for favoritism.

Teeth of the Dog’s versatility could give him an edge in this well-matched field that has to navigate 1  1/8 miles.

After running fifth in the Preakness, Teeth of the Dog won the Easy Goer Stakes, coming from off the pace. Three weeks later, on the same track with the same half-mile fractions, Teeth of the Dog won the Dwyer, holding off Fast Falcon by a neck.

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“I don’t think he thought there was that much pace in it and when all those other horses decided to go with him, he was already committed,” Matz said, referring to jockey Joel Rosario, who will ride Teeth of the Dog for the third straight time.

Teeth of the Dog will break from post 6, with My Adonis, the other potential speed in the field, directly to his inside.

Neck ’n Neck wasn’t mature enough to handle the rigors of the Triple Crown campaign during the winter in Florida, but has since developed into a solid colt. He won a first-level allowance race by 6  1/2 lengths at Churchill on May 10, then came back five weeks later and dominated a short field in the Grade 3 Matt Winn, winning by 7 1/4 lengths.

Trainer Ian Wilkes added blinkers to Neck ’n Neck’s equipment four starts back and said that move and maturity have combined to improve Neck ’n Neck.

“Before, he got to ducking and diving, wouldn’t pass horses, just wouldn’t do things right,” Wilkes said. “He’d lose focus, drop out of it, and the race was done. He’s into a rhythm now.”

Wilkes said he has been very happy with how Neck ’n Neck has trained over Saratoga’s main track. Jockey Leandro Goncalves makes his Saratoga debut in this spot.

If you draw a line through Alpha’s two races at Churchill Downs – 11th in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a 12th in the Kentucky Derby – he has 3-2-0 record from five starts. He began his career with a six-length maiden win here, making him the only horse to have a win – or a race – over this track.

Alpha missed the Belmont Stakes due to a temperature and was shipped to Saratoga in mid-June, where he has trained exceptionally well over the main track for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.

“I think it helped that we backed off a little bit,” McLaughlin said. “He has done very well, he’s put weight on, he’s happy, doing great.”

Atigun finished third in the Belmont, beaten only two lengths by Union Rags. His trainer, Ken McPeek, believes the horse could be sitting on his biggest performance yet.

“He’s probably coming into this race as well as I’ve ever seen him,” McPeek said. “He needs pace in the race, and you don’t ever know how that’s going to set up.”

Fast Falcon has improved with each of his last three performances, though he was twice beaten by Teeth of the Dog. As a son of Awesome Again, he should appreciate the 1 1/8 miles of the Jim Dandy.

“He’s bred for it, he ran very, very well, I’m kind of excited about that,” trainer Nick Zito said. “I’m happy with his progression. He’s an improving horse, and we’ll go from there.”

Trainer Bob Baffert has shipped Liaison cross-country for the Jim Dandy. He is coming off two narrow losses in the Affirmed and Swaps, both at Hollywood Park. Before that, he finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby.

Prospective finished 18th in the Kentucky Derby, but has since won two stakes, including the Grade 2 Ohio Derby.