SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — Say this about Tax — he's a lot better than he showed in the Kentucky Derby.
Tax took the lead at the top of the stretch and held off a late charge by favored Tacitus to win the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
The Grade II test for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles featured two of the top horses from the Triple Crown — Tacitus and Preakness winner War of Will — but Tax, with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, took advantage of a tough start by jockey Jose Ortiz aboard Tacitus — the horse's nose nearly scraped the dirt after a stumble out of the gate — to win by three-quarters of a length.
The gelded 3-year-old son of Arch covered the distance in 1 minute, 49.28 seconds and paid $11.00, $4.30 and $2.90. Tacitus returned $2.80 and $2.30, and Global Campaign was $3.20 to show.
War of Will led the first half-mile but faded to fifth in the six-horse field.
"No excuses," War of Will trainer Mark Casse said. "He kind of ran down the backside, but still, no excuses. He's tired, but I didn't think he needed much. He got out-run today."
The Jim Dandy victory for Tax came one week after Maximum Security, the disqualified first-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, won the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park to zoom to the top of the 3-year-old division.
It was the first start for Tacitus since his runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes in June. Tacitus also finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby but was elevated to third following the disqualification of Maximum Security.
Tacitus, who earned his second graded stakes win in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct in April, had been training sharply at Saratoga.
"I wanted to break good and make everybody use a little bit at the first sixteenth of a mile," Jose Ortiz said. "Unfortunately, he stumbled and after that I used him a little bit just to bring him up to the field."
A distant 15th in the Kentucky Derby, Tax had been training well, too, and it showed.
"His last work here the other day was spectacular, electrifying," trainer Danny Gargan said. "He's a lot fitter. This is the fittest I've ever had him. I knew he would dig in today. He's four or five lengths better than he was going into any one of his races."
The game plan was to sit back, and when Global Campaign didn't take charge early as expected War of Will, with jockey Tyler Gaffalione, went to the front.
At the top of the stretch, Tax surged ahead of War of Will and Tacitus by 1 1/2 lengths, then managed to hold off the game, hard-charging gray colt for the win.
"We never expected we were not going to be in front," Irad Ortiz Jr. said. "When I let him go and I asked him at the three-quarter pole, 'Let's go!,' he was feeling great."
The Jim Dandy is the traditional prep race for the Grade I Travers Stakes here in a month. Gargan is ready.
"It's the goal, so hopefully if he comes out of this well, we're in the Travers," he said. "I think he likes this track and he likes it here, so that's something we're pushing towards. It's a wide-open division.
"He was unfortunate a couple of times. If you take the Derby out, he's run as good as anyone all year," Gargan said. "With the right trip and the right situation, he can be right there. He's a gelding, so he will get better with age. He's just getting better and better. When a horse like this matures and gets bigger and stronger, he can be any kind of horse at the end of the year. I'm really, really happy with him."
In the first of the three featured races on the 12-race card, Imperial Hint, with jockey Javier Castellano, was three wide at the top of the stretch before pulling away in the closing strides and winning the 35th running of the Grade I $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap for the second straight time. Imperial Hunt finished four lengths ahead of Diamond Oops and well ahead of third-place finisher Mitole, the even-money favorite who had won seven straight races dating to last year.
"He did it again," Castellano said. "It's unbelievable. He's a little horse with a big heart."
Imperial Hint also broke the track record for six furlongs, finishing in 1:07.92 to eclipse the mark of 1:08.04 set by Spanish Riddle in 1972 and matched by Speightstown in 2004.
Channel Cat then followed by capturing the 61st running of the Grade II Bowling Green Stakes on the inner turf course, holding off Ya Primo and Arklow in the closing strides.