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Laoban runs away to Jim Dandy upset

July 31, 2016

Saratoga Springs

Winning trainer Eric Guillot had to run on the track to catch his horse.

Winning jockey Jose Ortiz had to walk back to the winner’s circle.

It was a fittingly bizarre ending to a shocking Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday afternoon.

Laoban, a 27-1 long shot winless in his previous seven starts, led wire to wire for a resounding maiden victory in the Grade II, $600,000 Jim Dandy before a paid attendance of 38,376 at the Spa.

“I’ve always known the horse had talent, from Day 1,” Guillot said.

He finally lived up to that ability to give Guillot, a colorful Louisiana native, an improbable contender for the $1.25 million Travers on Aug. 27.

“I’m here, he’s doing great,” Guillot said. “Why not take a chance? ... We don’t dance to elevator music. We dance to Zydeco.”

The wildness didn’t end when Laoban crossed the finish line 11/4 lengths ahead of Governor Malibu in the 11/8-mile race. After Laoban galloped out, he stumbled coming back on the clubhouse turn and tossed Ortiz.

“I’m thinking I might have to change jockeys,” Guillot joked. “I don’t want no used-up jockey that falls off all the time, do I? Do you think he was drunk?”

Ortiz, 22, earned his first victory in the Jim Dandy, named after the horse that upset Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox at 100-1 odds in the 1930 Travers.

Guillot scrambled on to the main track to cut off Laoban. Shortly after that, Ortiz returned on foot to the fans’ applause. With his elbow bleeding slightly, Ortiz climbed back on the horse for the winner’s photo.

“On his way back, (Laoban) switched to the right lead and he stumbled and I came off,” Ortiz said. “I’m good.”

It was the first time Ortiz had ever been on Laoban, who carried six different riders in his six most recent starts. One of those was a sixth-place finish under Florent Geroux in the Preakness on May 21.

Guillot came to Saratoga with the intent of entering Laoban in a maiden race. That plan changed when he realized his horse would clearly be the pacesetter in the Jim Dandy, which drew a field of only six being run on the same weekend as the Grade I, $1 million Haskell at Monmouth Park.

He also wanted to add stallion value to Laoban, a son of Uncle Mo out of a Speightstown mare.

“I was the lone speed, for one,” Guillot explained. “I’m thinking, all the speed’s across town tomorrow, in the Haskell. I’m thinking, you know what? I’m going to take a shot.”

Guillot also trained the front-running Moreno, who lost in a photo to Will Take Charge in the 2013 Travers.

His instincts with Laoban were proven right. Laoban surged to the lead through comfortable fractions of 24.56 and 49.07. Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin remained in close pursuit, a length behind, with Governor Malibu trailing in third.

″(Laoban) was relaxed, pulling me a little bit with his ears prickling and when I asked him to go by the quarter-pole, he really took off,” Ortiz said.

Laoban repelled a challenge on the outside from Destin, who had Javier Castellano aboard. Destin lost the battle for second place in the final sixteenth to Governor Malibu with Joel Rosario in the irons.

“I thought it was a good race,” said Todd Pletcher, Destin’s trainer, who was denied his record seventh Jim Dandy win. ”(Destin) tried to turn up the pressure but he never could get to the other horse. Hopefully he will move forward off of this.”

Laoban finished in 1 minute, 48.39 seconds. The 7-5 favorite Mohaymen came in fourth for the third straight race after a nearly three-month layoff since the Kentucky Derby.

“Obviously, he didn’t run his race,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who trains Mohaymen. “It looked like (jockey Junior Alvarado) was out of horse at the half-mile pole. It’s a big concern. We’ll scope him and look him over.”

Belmont Stakes winner Creator trailed the field throughout the race and finished last.

The Jim Dandy victory capped quite a week for Ortiz, who also earned his 1,000th career win on Thursday.

“It’s great to win 1,000 and even greater to win the Jim Dandy,” he said. “A nice horse and hopefully he is sound and healthy to go to the Travers.”

msingelais@timesunion.com • 518-454-5509 • @MarkSingelais