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Wicked Strong tuned up for the Travers (I) with a 5-furlong breeze over the main… we legit chased him from the track to across the street to get more shots!

Tonalist Back in Action in Jim Dandy


Image credit: ESPN.com

With the Triple Crown season over, the summer three-year-old preps are underway this weekend to cast light on the late improvers as well as the classic victors from the springtime. Wood Memorial (I) winner Wicked Strong and Belmont Stakes (I) winner Tonalist headline the Jim Dandy Stakes (II) at Saratoga as the two G1 winners with the rapidly improving Kid Cruz leading the improving colts en route to the Travers Stakes next month.

$600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, July 26 at 5:45pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Cousin Stephen - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Chad Brown - G3-placed and lightly-raced, the Proud Citizen colt improved recently to capture his first win as a three-year-old last month at Parx, wiring an allowance field to win the hard-fought contest by a nose. He stretches from that mile race back out to 9 furlongs here, a distance he dominated once before as a two-year-old. Trainer Chad Brown has gotten off to a slow start at the Spa, but Johnny V is as hot as ever and Brown sports some good stats turning in great performers 2nd off the layoff. Look for him to jet right off that rail and try to set a comfortable pace.

2) Legend - Luis Saez, 117 lbs, H. James Bond - The Tiznow-Storm Cat cross has worked well in the past, and Legend has proven to be a pretty fair sort of horse thus far with just one race finished out of the top 3. He made his stakes bow in the Easy Goer on Belmont Day last out, unable to catch the late-flying Kid Cruz, beaten 3 1/4 lengths. Ideal exotics horse with 3 places in 5 starts. Overall class is questionable.

3) Ulanbator - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Ian Wilkes - The Offlee Wild colt has had the misfortune of running into many a star in his past races from Tapiture to Ring Weekend to Constitution. He broke poorly and went wide last out in the Dwyer (III), finishing 3rd beaten some 5 lengths. A fairly reliable exotics horse. Bettor beware of his current form.

4) Tonalist - Joel Rosario, 123 lbs, Christophe Clement - It’s tough to find a horse in better shape and in finer racing fettle than this Tapit colt, who is fresh off his career-defining win in the Belmont (I). He’s had some time off since that win and the Peter Pan (II) win, but has shown he’s still quite responsive off the layoff. Rosario has a positive ROI with dirt routers and his running style could be favorable.

5) Kid Cruz - Irad Ortiz Jr, 119 lbs, Linda Rice - A growing force since his Preakness (I) horror show, the Lemon Drop Kid colt has won the Easy Goer and the Dwyer (III) since shipping back to New York, both captured in determined closing style. Linda Rice is hot on returning winners in graded events and has kept this colt pretty sharp with 4 wins in 6 starts this year. Irad Ortiz Jr has been red hot at ‘Toga.

6) Commanding Curve - Shaun Bridgmohan, 117 lbs, Dallas Stewart - Winless this year but G1-placed in the Kentucky Derby, the Master Command colt has not started since bombing in the Belmont, keeping fit at Churchill Downs before shipping up to Saratoga. A deep to mid-pack closer with a soft success rate, Curve’s class became questionable with that 9th place finish in the Belmont, and will need some type of pace and strategy if he hopes to do remotely well. Not a 5-1 horse.

7) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, 123 lbs, James Jerkens - The Hard Spun colt draws outside in this race following a decent run in the Belmont, dead-heating for 4th with California Chrome. Plagued by a lot of hard luck, he has won and been up for the show in his 2 starts at 9 furlongs. Jerkens adds blinkers after not seeing the colt fire like he should have in the Belmont, a move that has seen mixed results in the trainer’s past attempts. With most horses gunning to the front here, Wicked Strong’s mid-race rallying cry ought to move him up into at least the top three. Layoff should not be an issue whatsoever with him, however I question his sharpness right now.

Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferred win odds)

1) Tonalist (4-5)

2) Kid Cruz (5-1)

3) Cousin Stephen (10-1)

Tonalist looks very tough to be all-around in this race and is arguably the best three-year-old colt in the country right now. Especially if the slight speed bias holds, Tonalist ought to jet off right off whatever pacesetter sits in front of him, and may even go right to the front. I have a newfound love for Kid Cruz, who has been looking great lately with Irad Ortiz, and the pair look to make yet another gutsy late run. I’ll close out this “trifecta” with Cousin Stephen, who probably can’t win but could hold on for some money. Wicked Strong probably needs a race, probably.

Value Pick: Statistics point out that Kid Cruz (5-1 or better) could be a big threat. He’ll need every ounce of him to improve to beat Tonalist, but he’s a real good colt. Favorites love to die at the Spa.

Horizontals: Tonalist may be singled here. Add in Kid Cruz and possibly Wicked Strong to spread.

Palace Malice Faces Nine in Jim Dandy


The winner of the Travers often comes from its Jim Dandy (II) prep, and this year we’ve got a pretty nice lineup of colts including the Belmont winner Palace Malice, the Dwyer (II) winner Moreno, and the Peter Pan (II) winner Freedom Child. Palace Malice figures to be the favorite here if talk follows the walk to the windows, and why shouldn’t anyone not favor this colt who broke his maiden here a year save a week ago and is hot off defeating the Derby and Preakness winners? Historical tidbits:

  • No Belmont winner in the past 20 years has won the Jim Dandy, and there have been 5 attempts: Empire Maker, Da’ Tara, Editor’s Note, Colonial Affair, and Tabasco Cat.
  • Todd Pletcher has won more Jim Dandies than any other trainer in history, going for his 6th this year with Palace Malice.
  • The seemingly unstoppable Curlin lost the Haskell after his near-miss in the Belmont and Preakness victory, finishing a well-beaten 3rd to Any Given Saturday.
  • Palace Malice has won just two races: he is 2-for-2 when I am present in the crowd. I am not going to be at Saratoga today ;)

A slight chance of rain may dampen the track, but expect a fast going.

$600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga. Post Time: Saturday, July 27 at 5:45pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Bashaar - Javier Castellano, 117 lbs, Daniel Peitz - The Shadwell longshot by Street Cry [IRE] fumbled in a poor trip last out in the Iowa Derby (III), finishing willingly enough to be 3rd by a length and a half. He should dig the stretch-out and gets a better jockey in Castellano. He’s probably better than the morning line suggests and will look for a closing zip.

2) Code West - Joel Rosario, 119 lbs, Bob Baffert - I took a liking to the Lemon Drop Kid colt late in the Triple Crown preps, where he was constantly finding himself getting poor trips. Had he been entered in the Derby, I might have gone with him. He has won 2 and placed once in his 3 starts since sidelining himself from the Kentucky Derby, including the G3 Matt Winn, and his workouts show he’s ready to roll with Rosario.

3) Will Take Charge - Junior Alvarado, 121 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - The chrome-trimmed son of the recently deceased Unbridled’s Song turns back to the track after finishing a sleepy 10th in the Belmont Stakes (I), and has felt his fair share of poor trips as of late. Lukas takes the blinkers off in hopes of seeing something change. I haven’t seen anything that convinces me that WTC is going to be a contender here.

4) Moreno - Jose Ortiz, 121 lbs, Eric Guillot - The Ghostzapper colt backed up his maiden romp at Belmont with an easy score in the Dwyer (II) last out. The stretch-out shouldn’t bother him, and while Moreno will still have to keep proving himself, he is on the improving path although he needs a true test.

5) Palace Malice - Mike Smith, 123 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The mighty Curlin passed on his grit to this Belmont winner, who will be the class and favorite of the race here following his big breakthrough win. PM is capable of speed as he showed in the Derby as well as sustained drive like he showed in the Belmont. He likes Saratoga plenty, but he will have to demonstrate that his Belmont win wasn’t a fluke.

6) Perfect Title - Shaun Bridgmohan, 117 lbs, Dallas Stewart - The Perfect Soul [IRE] colt is new to the graded scene, but has yet to be worse than 4th in his career as he is coming off a Churchill Downs score where he ran big late. Imagine an ideal setup and a trip that doesn’t carry this one so wide— and they haven’t been running too wide lately at Saratoga. Interesting exotic choice.

7) Freedom Child - Luis Saez, 121 lbs, Tom Albertrani - The Malibu Moon colt was riding high off his Peter Pan (II) win when he stopped dead in the Belmont to finish a hapless 13th. Probably a better bet at this distance, include him if it rains, but otherwise he’s still a bit of a shrug choice where I don’t know how he stacks up.

8) Mylute - Rosie Napravnik, 117 lbs, Thomas Amoss - The gorgeous Midnight Lute colt redeemed himself racing 2nd to Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby, and finished forward although not competitive enough for the win in the Derby and the Preakness. His last three races are impressive if you go by the numbers: he went too wide in the Preakness, wide again before that in the jumbled Derby, and then went very wide and lost by just a neck in the Louisiana Derby, which to me is a small enough margin to say he could have won. He gets a weight break from many horses here, and *is* competitive despite always being good, but not good enough. Layoff is a concern, too.

9) Looking Cool - Edgar Prado, 119 lbs, Carl Nazfger - The Iowa Derby (III) winner and son of Candy Ride [ARG] invades Saratoga after his breakthrough big win last out. He has won 3 of his 6 starts this year, but got overwhelmed in the Matt Winn (III) to finish that race up the track. Class becomes a question here; if he can keep his Iowa Derby form he’s competitive, but more often than not he is lacking.

10) Vyjack - Running in Haskell instead!

Top Picks in Order: (dry fast track)

1) Moreno (5-1)

2) Perfect Title (15-1)

3) Code West (7-1)

Palace Malice can win just as much as he can lose, and like HELL I’m going to accept the odds on him considering everything and how much I like others in the field. Moreno finished ears forward while improving some more out on the lead of the Dwyer, and I’m hoping he has another good race left in him to work some more magic. Perfect Title intrigued the heck out of me enough to include him in the top 3, running big against a slower pace and getting game when shouldered against the competition in the stretch. Code West has some upside, finishing well in his recent starts and looks game as ever. Mylute is a logical choice that is being ignored in favor of Palace Malice, and he has shown ability in gunning it late against a slow pace.

Value Pick: Perfect Title (20-1) came running big and late last out just like his brother Golden Soul did in the Derby.

While Alpha did not impress me at all in the Jim Dandy (II), I do love his track finish photo… pretty much the only one who isn’t muddy and his ears are pricked forward. He reminds me of that photogenic runner guy meme! (Photo by Bob Coglianese)

While Alpha did not impress me at all in the Jim Dandy (II), I do love his track finish photo… pretty much the only one who isn’t muddy and his ears are pricked forward. He reminds me of that photogenic runner guy meme! (Photo by Bob Coglianese)

Weekend Stake Tip: Street Cred

I handicapped the three big Travers (I) preps this past week… personal picks Ever So Lucky and Street Life hit the board in the Curlin Stakes. Alpha was fitter than I expected in the Jim Dandy (II) where second place went to Neck ‘N Neck as I predicted and Fast Falcon faltered, and last of all, I got the exacta in the Haskell (I). Other weekend cash-ins worth mentioning were $10 on Amazombie in the Bing Crosby (I), $5 on Winter Memories (Dream Peace [IRE] screwed my Winter Memories-Zagora [FR] exacta) in the Diana Stakes (I), and $2 on a longshot Matz trainee named Assateague on the Saratoga turf.

As a rule and a showing of my true inner stubbornness, I will typically make plays on whatever race I handicapped mid-week on the weekends unless a) the odds are horrid and or b) there was a significant change to the race, such as a key horse scratching or in many cases of late, track condition changes. One thing I will freely admit is that I have yet to really grasp how an off track will affect how the race shapes up, and ultimately, finishes. One guideline a NYRA commentor mentioned leading up to the Jim Dandy (II) that I openly agree with is that with an off track comes the opportunity for longshots to shine, as many who ran poorly on a fit track tend to blossom in the mud or just take advantage of a struggling favorite on the surface. Failure to consider the heavier-than-expected rainfall probably didn’t affect me much this weekend, but it has in the past!

This week, I’m going to go light on everyone and just let the horses speak for themselves. Summing up the 3 three-year-old preps in one word is “meh.” I don’t know what to make of the Jim Dandy (II), most of all. I will say that I do not consider Alpha to be a top contender and will be taking advantage of all the love he’s getting when the Travers rolls around. He set soft fractions on the front end on an off track and while he won by about 2 lengths, the race was not impressive at all. Gemologist beat this horse at his best and that one finished last in the Haskell (I)… what does that say? Paynter looked dominant, but considering the loose credentials of the Haskell field, he wasn’t tested. At this point in time, I think Street Life will win the Travers.

As far as older horses go, Winter Memories made me proud beating up Tapitsfly and the Euros to be 3-for-4 at Saratoga and a wonderful prospect for the Breeders’ Cup Filly Turf (I). Just an easy win for her right there. Sprinter Capital Account should be watched in the future as well as a Starlight Racing two-year-old named Lawn Man I had down to win (but did not bet because of the deep field, agh! 10-1!) who destroyed a very classy maiden special weight at Saratoga.

I’m saying yes to a third win in a row for Teeth of the Dog in the Jim Dandy (II).

I’m saying yes to a third win in a row for Teeth of the Dog in the Jim Dandy (II).

Value Abound in Jim Dandy Stakes

Despite being seen as the lesser prep race for the Travers (I), the Jim Dandy (II) may be of a lesser grade than the Haskell (I), but in many ways it is the smart route to the big summertime prize for three-year-olds being at Saratoga. Street Sense won the Jim Dandy-Travers double in 2007, as did Bernardini in 2006, Flower Alley in 2005, and Stay Thirsty just this past year. This year features no one clear front-runner, but 3 Kentucky Derby contenders, a G1 winning shipper, and 2 Belmont runners.

A 50% chance of rain the day of the race may soak the track, but I’m optimistic it won’t take too much of a beating with the summertime drought that’s been trending in the northeast.

$200,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (II) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, July 28 at 5:45pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Alpha - Ramon Dominguez, 119 lbs, Kieran McLaughlin - Both Bernardini and son Stay Thirsty won the Jim Dandy, so can a fresh Alpha get the job done off the rail? New York is his calling card, with his maiden break being at Saratoga at first asking along with two stakes wins leading up to a dry 12th in the Kentucky Derby. Impressive in his runner-up finish in the Wood (I), while Alpha will fighting a layoff and a rail spot, he seems mature for the task. Ace works at Saratoga affirm his fitness. With all the above said and the fact that leading rider Ramon chose Alpha over Hansen this weekend speaks volumes. 

2) Fast Falcon - Rosie Napravnik, 117 lbs, Nick Zito - A son of Awesome Again, Fast Falcon was fast, but not fast enough to outduel a very game Teeth of the Dog in the Dwyer (II) and the Easy Goer. Working steadily at Saratoga, the weight break could prove useful to this nice closer’s tactics as arguably the best lightweight here without a stakes win. Will need to improve a lot though if he wants to keep up.

3) Atigun - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - The Istan colt impressed in his modest attempt to catch Paynter in the Belmont (I) where he placed 3rd just behind the others. A nice sweeping closer, he’s been doing very well since moving to Saratoga, but his past stakes attempts have been of a concern with flat performances.

4) Neck ‘N Neck - Leandro Goncalves, 119 lbs, Ian Wilkes - The Flower Alley colt really switched gears since the start of the year, living up to his connections’ expectations while winning the Matt Winn (II) by 7 lengths along with an allowance before that by 6 1/2, both at 1 1/16 miles. He looks ready to roll for a big effort here and will likely sit mid-pack.

5) My Adonis - Javier Castellano, 117 lbs, Kelly Breen - The Pleasantly Perfect colt struggled to get it right all year and finally prevailed winning the ungraded Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth over 1 1/16 miles while setting the pace. No recent works (at least that I can see) are very concerning; coupled with the belief I think this one is just going to be a miler or 7-furlong horse, and he’s an easy one to leave out.

6) Teeth of the Dog - Joel Rosario, 121 lbs, Michael Matz - A deserving favorite, the Bluegrass Cat colt was simply awesome in his bone-chilling duel with Fast Falcon last out in the Dwyer (II) after he unwisely made an early bid for the front, becoming vulnerable to the closer’s late move. Still, lesson learned, I think, and the Dog should be anyone’s top 3 to watch. Relaxed works at Fair Hill are encouraging before an anticipated blowout here, and those speed figures keep going up.

7) Liaison - Martin Garcia, 119 lbs, Bob Baffert - The lone G1 winner in the field is this re-emerging son of Indian Charlie, who impressed leading trainer Baffert enough to ship west along with Garcia, also impressed with the colt as of late. He rallied hard to place 3rd in the Swaps (II) last out, fighting a tedious pace set by Blueskiesnrainbows, and just missed winning the Affirmed (III). If anything, I have to applaud Liaison’s fighting spirit this year. He’s been zipping along really nicely and if Baffert’s impressed, you should look at him.

8) Prospective - John Velazquez, 119 lbs, Mark Casse - The winner of the tiny Iowa Derby (III), the Malibu Moon colt looked like he had a nice public workout there and looks to be a promising shipper from Mark Casse’s barn at Woodbine. A horse with some smarts and a jockey boost to Johnny V, he has some class issues to work out but looks fit for an attempt.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Teeth of the Dog

2) Neck ‘N Neck

3) Fast Falcon

Alpha and Teeth of the Dog are the speediest horses here, but face a serious challenge from Liaison, who I still question as a top three-year-old. I’m expecting My Adonis to set an even pace with Teeth of the Dog sitting off it with Neck ‘N Neck, Liaison, and Alpha in reserve just behind those two. In the stretch, Adonis will tire, and from there on out it gets tricky. Alpha will probably show his rust, Liaison may or may not prove that he’s another Indian Charlie who can’t do 9 furlongs, the extra weight might put Dog at a disadvantage… what to do? I think Dog’s got enough in him for one more at 9 furlongs while Neck ‘N Neck will improve to be good for second (might still be too green to win). I still think highly of Fast Falcon for third.

Value Pick: Fast Falcon

The Top 10 Colts to Watch This Summer

Between January and today, we lost a ton of star power in the three-year-old dirt router division, the most prominent miss being Triple Crown leg winners I’ll Have Another and Union Rags, who suffered a suspensory injury and is now out for the year along with Went the Day Well, who has some ankle issues— all three would have likely been included in the top 5 otherwise. In devising the summer’s must-watch list, I had to leave out so many, blocking out any contenders who have not had a recorded work within the past 60 days.

Unfortunately, I am forced to leave out this year’s many excellent turf runners in favor of dirt routers in determining the best candidates to rack up points towards a big Eclipse prize.

10) Gemologist - I was going to leave this one out, but he’s been throwing bullets lately and it’s hard to knock a colt who was undefeated most of his career. However, he has a lot of questions hovering over him now that the fields are getting stronger than what he’s faced in the past, and it doesn’t help that trainer Todd Pletcher is in a slouch. Next move: Jim Dandy (II) or Haskell (I)

9) Neck ‘N Neck - The connections loved him despite his hard luck early on the Triple Crown trail, and he really blossomed when winning the Matt Winn (III) by a whopping 7 lengths. If he can continue to mature, I think we’ll see another special Flower Alley colt this year… Next move: Jim Dandy (II)

8) Alpha - Nearly left this guy off the list despite ranking him in my top three juvenile colts last year. By the looks of his three-year-old year, he has gotten over his gate quirks and has matured mentally quite a good deal. He dueled with Gemologist bravely in the Wood Memorial (I) before enduring a fuzzy trip in the Kentucky Derby. Issue-laced, I still feel it’s more possible for a Bernardini to blossom during the summertime (Stay Thirsty did as well as the sire himself!). Next move: Jim Dandy (II)

7) Prospective - A promising winner of the Tampa Bay Derby (II), I thought the colt had a good mind and a determined drive during the Triple Crown season, making him a live longshot for the Kentucky Derby. He didn’t do as well as I hoped, but made a nice run in the shrunken Ohio Derby (III) last out to show he still has what it takes. Next move: Haskell (I)

6) Blueskiesnrainbows - An English Channel who is actually good on dirt, the chestnut Baffert trainee made an amazing impression running third in the Santa Anita Derby (I), passed only toward the end by I’ll Have Another and Creative Cause. He won the Swaps Stakes (II), and while he was largely unchallenged in that race setting the pace, he’s another Baffert horse to watch as the distances grow. Next move: Nominated to Jim Dandy (II) as a possible

5) Street Life - The Street Sense colt has been an excellent runner all season, winning a few in New York and last finished a belated fourth in the Belmont Stakes (I). He should especially be watched because of all the speed present in this three-year-old crop, setting up quite perfectly for his closing move. Next move: Curlin Stakes

4) Hansen - A dynamite two-year-old, the Tapit phenom has had a very rocky three-year-old season thus far, sailing smooth to win the Gotham (III) but facing some questionable moves in the Kentucky Derby when strangled back to 10th and a rank 2nd to Algorithms in the Holy Bull (III). However, Hansen is still a classy horse, and should Mike Maker send the colt to the front, he’ll put up a serious fight to stay there. His Iowa Derby (III) prep looked real nice as well, automatically putting him at the head of the list of horses bound for the Travers. Next move: Likely West Virginia Derby (II)

3) Paynter - This horse has just been getting better and better with each start, much like his stablemate Bodemeister. I originally didn’t like him all that much even early on (I was an original Bode supporter of the Zayat string), but the way he constantly performs well despite getting the most bizarre things thrown at him— maiden, then a big G1, then shipping into mud, then 12 furlongs?! He still has some questions to answer, but looks like a horse who will get better as the months wear on. Next move: Haskell (I)

2) Teeth of the Dog - Michael Matz’s second-string to Union Rags may be pulling a Stay Thirsty this year by grabbing his ousted stablemates intended accolades instead. He showed tenacity while winning the Dwyer (II) and really hasn’t been out of the heat of the fight since the start of the year while finishing an improving third behind Gemologist and Alpha in the Wood Memorial (I). I’m waiting for this one to get better and better. Next move: Jim Dandy (II)

1) Bodemeister - The Empire Maker colt boasted huge figures winning the Arkansas Derby (I) and impressed more than the winner in the Kentucky Derby (I). I’m dismissing the Preakness (I) runner-up performance because of a boggy rail, and while my biggest concern will be post-fever fitness (the reason he is out of the Haskell), I have few doubts Bode won’t be able to handle the crowd. He isn’t a “need the lead” type, and with his pedigree, ought to do well. If a horse can outspeed Trinniberg and hold on to almost wire a classic with such little prep… I’m excited. Next move: Unknown prep for Travers

It would be awesome to see O’Prado Again, Algorithms, and or Fire on Ice come back in time, however unlikely that may be…

Could Liaison be making a comeback? The G1 winner was deservedly dismissed as a serious contender in the Kentucky Derby, but managed to work his way up to a good 6th followed by 2 board finishes. Martin Garcia was so impressed with a recent work, he’s now on schedule to ride the Indian Charlie colt in the Jim Dandy (II). Decisions, decisions.

Could Liaison be making a comeback? The G1 winner was deservedly dismissed as a serious contender in the Kentucky Derby, but managed to work his way up to a good 6th followed by 2 board finishes. Martin Garcia was so impressed with a recent work, he’s now on schedule to ride the Indian Charlie colt in the Jim Dandy (II). Decisions, decisions.

Javier Castellano sails home first with Bernardini (AP Indy x Cara Rafaela, by Quiet American) in the 2006 Jim Dandy Stakes (II). Castellano’s hopes this year ride on Bernardini’s son Stay Thirsty. Catch the race today at 5:45PM on VERSUS.

Javier Castellano sails home first with Bernardini (AP Indy x Cara Rafaela, by Quiet American) in the 2006 Jim Dandy Stakes (II). Castellano’s hopes this year ride on Bernardini’s son Stay Thirsty. Catch the race today at 5:45PM on VERSUS.

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