Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve, looking to turn the page on a disappointing performance in the Belmont Stakes, has been entered in Friday's $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga. Held the day before the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy over the same 1 1/8-mile trip, the Curlin offers a relatively easier stepping stone to the August 23 Travers. But like a typical stakes at the Spa, it remains quite competitive, with such useful stakes runners as Life in Shambles, Joint Custody, Spot and Cousin Stephen as well as up-and-comers Charge Now, Protonico, Viva Majorca and V. E. Day.
Commanding Curve is still seeking his first win outside of maiden company. After breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs last November, the Dallas Stewart trainee finished sixth in the Risen Star and a troubled third in the Louisiana Derby. Commanding Curve was overlooked at 37-1 in the Kentucky Derby, but outperformed his odds when storming from 18th to second, reducing California Chrome's margin to 1 3/4 lengths. The West Point Thoroughbreds colorbearer showed little, however, in the June 7 Belmont, where he wound up ninth, beating only the two who were eased.
Training forwardly since that subpar effort, Commanding Curve just breezed five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 here last Saturday. Connections were also considering the Jim Dandy before entering the Curlin, which appears to have more pace on tap. The deep closer has drawn the rail with regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan.
Life in Shambles, a stablemate and frequent work companion for Belmont Stakes hero Tonalist, will likely be on or near the early lead from post 10. Beaten just a head in his stakes bow in the May 17 Sir Barton, the Christophe Clement pupil set a demanding tempo in the June 7 Easy Goer and paid for it late. The gritty gelding wound up third to Kid Cruz and Legend, who could square off in the Jim Dandy (Kid Cruz has the August 2 West Virginia Derby as another possibility). Joel Rosario, aboard for both of his stakes attempts, will guide Life in Shambles from the outside post 10.
The Kid Cruz formline is also represented by Joint Custody and Spot. Joint Custody placed behind Kid Cruz in the Private Terms and Federico Tesio in his home state of Maryland. Venturing to Delaware Park for the Grover (Buddy) Delp Memorial, Joint Custody was outdueled by Tiz'naz, but rebounded with a convincing win in the off-the-turf Stanton in his latest. He renews rivalry with Tiz'naz, who comes to Saratoga off a dismal seventh in the July 5 Long Branch at Monmouth. As the only two stakes winners at a mile or more in the field, Joint Custody and Tiz'naz are the co-highweights at 123 pounds.
Spot made an auspicious start for new connections -- owner Joseph Moss and trainer Nick Zito -- in the Swale at Gulfstream Park, stunning the hitherto unbeaten No Nay Never. But the well-bred son of Pulpit hasn't managed to hit the board in four ensuing races. His best result in that span was his most recent, a closing fourth to Kid Cruz in the July 5 Dwyer, and he could be on the verge of another move forward. Note that Spot gets a rider switch to Jose Ortiz.
The Chad Brown-trained Cousin Stephen aims to fulfill his early promise. Stamping himself as one to watch when crushing an Aqueduct maiden last November, he was the 8-5 favorite in a loaded allowance at Gulfstream in January, but wound up fifth to Commissioner and Top Billing. Cousin Stephen exited that loss with a lung infection. He was back on track in the Sam F. Davis, finishing a battling-on third, but flopped in the Tampa Bay Derby and headed to the sidelines. The Proud Citizen colt made a winning return in a June 16 Parx allowance, where he led throughout before holding on by a desperate nose, and now he gets Hall of Famer John Velazquez in his corner.
Charge Now has always inspired hopes as a half-brother to 2010 Kentucky Derby hero Super Saver. The Bill Mott colt captured a Gulfstream maiden and promptly wired an entry-level allowance at Belmont, earning his way into the Grade 3 ranks in the Iowa Derby. But Charge Now never got involved after breaking slowly and trudged home seventh in the Prairie Meadows slop. The son of Tiznow is eligible to make amends.
Protonico is another blueblood who is likely better than his lone stakes result, a sixth in last fall's Nashua. By Giant's Causeway and out of an A.P. Indy mare, Protonico has won both of his other starts. He romped in his debut at Delaware, captured a Belmont allowance most recently in his first outing for Todd Pletcher, and keeps Javier Castellano in the saddle.
Viva Majorca and V. E. Day are stepping up to face stakes rivals, but both have the right profile to make an impact. Viva Majorca, a Marylou Whitney homebred, trounced a Gulfstream maiden by 12 lengths and rolled to a 3 1/2-length allowance win at Churchill Downs. Although he has raced only in sprints so far, the son of Tiago is bred to prefer a route. V. E. Day comes off two straight wins at Belmont for Jimmy Jerkens, in a sloppy, off-the-turf maiden and a turf allowance at this trip. The English Channel colt's preferred surface is yet to be determined, for he is untested on a fast main track.