07/30/2009 11:00PM

Warrior's Reward seeks redemption

Barbara D. Livingston
Warrior's Reward will try to rebound from a pair of disappointing starts.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Ian Wilkes has grown weary of having to make excuses for Warrior's Reward.

While he still believes Warrior's Reward is a talented 3-year-old, Saturday's $500,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga would be a great time for the colt to justify Wilkes's faith in him. Warrior's Reward takes on six rivals in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, which serves as the local prep for the $1 million Shadwell Travers Stakes on Aug. 29.

The Jim Dandy is the co-feature on an 11-race card that also includes the Grade 1 Diana for fillies and mares on the turf. The Jim Dandy also is the third leg of a late pick-four wager which will have a guaranteed pool of $500,000. The wager begins with raceo8, the Lake Luzerne overnight stakes.

Warrior's Reward, a son of 2002 Jim Dandy and Travers winner Medaglia d'Oro, is winless in three stakes tries. He emerged from an eighth-place finish in the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Derby with a throat issue that required surgery. After defeating Munnings in a first-level allowance race May 1, Warrior's Reward, the 4-5 favorite, was beaten a head in the Grade 3 Northern Dancer after being forced to race closer to the pace than he prefers.

Sent off at 4-5 in the Grade 2 Dwyer, Warrior's Reward stumbled badly at the start and was 18 lengths off the early pace. He rallied to finish third, 5 1/2 lengths behind Kensei and Convocation, both of whom are back in this spot.

"I was proud of him that he finished third in that race, he could have easily run sixth or seventh getting that far back," Wilkes said. "You can't close at Belmont from that far out of it. I really feel like he's done well since the race."

Still, Wilkes hopes he doesn't have to come up with an excuse following Sunday's race.

"My ultimate goal is pointing to the Travers," Wilkes said. "I got to give him every shot. We've had excuses, but you can't keep making excuses. He's got to do it. If you find you make too many excuses, there's a reason."

Warrior's Reward will break from post 4 under Calvin Borel. At 115 pounds, he will be in receipt of six pounds from graded stakes winners Kensei and Charitable Man.

Kensei makes his two-turn debut in the Jim Dandy. He had never won beyond six furlongs until he rolled to an eye-catching 3 1/4-length score in the Dwyer at Belmont on July 4. Prior to that, he had finished second in the Derby Trial and third to Munnings in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens.

"He's earned his way to this point," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "I think I feel better about the mile and an eighth off of the Dwyer than I did about the mile and a sixteenth off the Woody Stephens."

Asmussen said his one concern is that Kensei "might be a bit sharp right now." Kensei figures to be forwardly placed in a race where the speed figures to come from Charitable Man and Miner's Escape and possibly Saratoga Sinner.

"He's going to need to relax a bit going a mile and an eighth, his first two-turn race, but he is 1 for 1 at Saratoga, so we'll have that going for us," said Asmussen.

Kensei won his debut at the Spa last summer.

Charitable Man, a multiple Grade 2 winner, shortens up to 1 1/8 miles after his fourth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin skipped the Dwyer with Charitable Man to have a fresher horse in an attempt to win both the Jim Dandy and Travers.

McLaughlin expects Charitable Man to be forwardly placed. Flat Bold, his other entrant, will come from off the pace.

Convocation could be the value play of the Jim Dandy. The Pulpit colt jumped from the maiden ranks to the Dwyer, where he finished a solid second making a big middle move.

"I thought he kept coming," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "He made a big move around the turn. Usually when you do that it tells on you late. But then he kicked on again at the very end, which was good."

Saratoga Sinner makes his first start since winning Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream in January. He has been working sharply for trainer Eddie Kenneally, who said earlier this week that the horse would most likely benefit from this race moving forward.

The Jim Dandy and Diana will be shown on MSG-Plus in a one-hour program starting at 5 p.m. Eastern. The commentators for the show will be Jason Blewitt, Eric Donovan, and Andy Serling. It will also be shown on TVG and HRTV.