Strong and professional

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Jimmy Jerkens waded into the middle of the scrum in front of the big screen TV in the clubhouse. Christophe Clement moored in the front row. Linda Rice’s assistants stood next to Jerkens. The West Point Thoroughbreds crew filled in the gaps.

Six horses broke from the gate for Saturday’s Jim Dandy. Legend gunned, Kid Cruz hustled, Wicked Strong stalked, Tonalist tracked, Ulanbator meshed, Commanding Curve lagged. The crowd watched.

Halfway around the turn, it was down to two as Tonalist roared up to Wicked Strong. And then it was one. Jerkens’ wife Shirley yelled loudest, “Come on Wicked. Come on Wicked. Come on Wicked. Go Wicked. Go Wicked. Go Wicked.”

Jimmy Jerkens watched silently, staring, looking down at the floor and removing his glasses twice during the early stages. Then he yelled once, snapping his hand down as Wicked Strong blew past the eighth pole, Jim Dandy Stakes well in hand.

“Come on…,” Jerkens implored, but only once, his voice tailing off in confirmation. He and Shirley hugged before Wicked Strong reached the wire.

Wicked Strong had arrived.

Owned by Centennial Farms, the 3-year-old son of Hard Spun returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since dominating the Wood Memorial in April. That victory propelled him to the lead pack of Triple Crown contenders. The big bay colt finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby and finished in a dead heat for fourth in the Belmont Stakes, running like he was texting and driving, accelerating and decelerating at whim. The efforts were decent, excused-filled, but underwhelming.

Jerkens regrouped after the Belmont and aimed at the summer season, a time when the late-maturing 3-year-olds can catch up to the early-maturing ones. Jerkens added blinkers to the enigmatic colt, breezed him three times and circled the Jim Dandy. Rajiv Maragh and Wicked Strong did the rest.

“He ran amazing, he repelled a Belmont Stakes winner and pulled away, you can’t get better than that,” Maragh said as he leaned on the winner’s circle rail and watched the replay. “The blinkers put him in the race, he was putting me into his own power, he wasn’t running spotty down the backstretch. He got in that strong nice rhythm. We knew he had it in him but it all came together.”

To read the rest of the Jim Dandy recap, access Sunday’s digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland Sales.