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Pyro Poised for Triple Crown Rematch

The field for the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes this Sunday is shaping up to be a sampling of the best-of Triple Crown hopefuls and never-wases. Pyro, fresh from his comeback in the Northern Dancer Stakes at Churchill Downs, has proven his authority over Recapturetheglory and Visionaire after his Derby flop, and now is set to prove himself against former Triple Crown runners Da’ Tara, Tale of Ekati, Anak Nakal, and Macho Again. New rivals Tiz Now Tiz Then and Tizbig are also up to challenge. In this second half of the year, the big stakes races are starting to pop up again in preparation for the most prestigious race in America, the Breeder’s Cup Classic. But Pyro is on a road all his own.

Da’ Tara has also had something to prove in the Jim Dandy. Was he really the quality of horse that could soundly beat Big Brown? Or did he just get lucky on Brownie’s bad day? Well, we won’t get a rematch with Mr. Big this time around, but we will get to see how the Belmont winner will do against early Kentucky Derby favorite, Pyro, along with a field that is ready to roll on the road to the Breeder’s Cup. These 3-year-olds will use the Jim Dandy as a springboard to the Breeder’s Cup championships in October, with several other stakes races like the Haskell and the Travers serving as prep races in between.

Unfortunately, the hereby dubbed “Road to Pyro’s Revenge” will not be including arch-rival War Pass anytime soon. The winner of the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile and Eclipse for 2-year-old colt is still sitting on the sidelines after suffering a hairline fracture in the Wood Memorial back in April, where he finished second to Tale of Ekati. His connections haven’t been impressed with the colt’s recovery, and if he doesn’t get a longer grace period to heal, will likely be retired before he can race again. That would be a shame, as the loss of War Pass from the track would detract from the quality of horses racing once again. It was hoped the champ would be fit for a comeback in the Breeder’s Cup and finally be able to take on the fields from the Triple Crown he was never able to mix up. What’s more, Pyro won’t be able to finally get his revenge on the one horse who kept getting in his way to victory as a 2-year-old.

As a 2-year-old, War Pass won all four of his starts. In three of those starts, the dark bay colt faced Pyro, and a rivalry was born. In their second race, an allowance at Saratoga, Pyro finished 3rd to War Pass’s win; in the Champagne Stakes, Pyro was breathing down War Pass’ heels as he crossed the wire in front. And then there was the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, where Trevoer Denman famously called, “War Pass has drawn clear, but Pyro’s got dead aim and is closing steadily in the center. Let’s see, can War Pass find more? He certainly can!” Pyro finished a well-beaten second in the slop that day, but went on to win his next two starts in such impressive fashion, the feisty colt began to garner Kentucky Derby buzz. They never met again on their road to the Triple Crown. And so I think that spite has been festering in the back of Pyro’s mind.

After finishing dismally back-to-back in the Blue Grass Stakes and the Kentucky Derby, Pyro’s win in the Northern Dancer Stakes hints the colt is coming back to form. It’s about time, as Pyro’s racing days are numbered. After the Breeder’s Cup (which Asmussen said the colt would not be running in), Pyro’s ownership will transfer over to Sheik Mohammed, the owner of Darley Stud. The decision will then be made whether or not to continue racing Pyro. Don’t get your hopes up. Not every owner can be as conscientious of the industry as Curlin’s Jess Jackson.

I have a simple wish for Pyro’s connections. Before his retirement, let the colt win a Grade I. It would be highway robbery for this talented horse to miss his chance at putting his name in line with some of the best in his generation. The factors which once held back this horse from winning a Grade I are behind him now. In the name of Pyro’s Road to Revenge, a Grade I must be checked off.

Not to say he’ll have an easy time of winning in the Jim Dandy on Sunday; the challengers will definitely test how well Pyro has bounced back. Tiz Now Tiz Then is showing some promise after winning against stakes company for the first time in the Iowa Derby. Tale of Ekati was pummeled in the slop in the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile, but holds an accomplishment Pyro may never be able to touch: beating War Pass down to the wire. Take of Ekati isn’t War Pass, but he’s close enough, right? And of course, there’s Da’ Tara. Beating the horse that surprised everyone on Belmont day would be a credit to anyone’s record, though it would particularly bolster Pyro’s. And if he accomplishes a win in the Jim Dandy, I believe his sights should focus on a certain big brown horse who will be running in the Haskell the following Sunday.

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