After a few weeks of baby steps, the path to the Breeders’ Cup, and potential greatness, for the Triple Crown 3-year-olds gets into full stride this weekend.

The $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga and the $1 million Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park are often the next big targets for 3-year-olds after the Triple Crown has ended, and that’s very much the case this weekend, with eight of the players from the Triple Crown series taking part.

The Jim Dandy, run on Saturday, features just five horses. Only two of them ran in the Triple Crown series, but they happen to be two winners from that series: Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, and Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing.

Always Dreaming, out to show that his failure in the Preakness, when he was taken on in front by Classic Empire, was an aberration, is the even-money morning-line favorite. Cloud Computing, who’s aiming to show his Preakness victory was no fluke, is at 6-5.

Their opponents are the Californian Pavel, a winner of his only start for trainer Doug O’Neill; Giuseppe the Great, recently a fourth-place finisher in the Dwyer Stakes (G2); and Good Samaritan, who runs for the first time on dirt after three minor-place finishes in graded turf races this year. It would be a surprise if one of the classic winners did not triumph.

The Haskell Invitational, which runs Sunday, has a bit more depth to it. The seven-horse field includes six that ran in the Kentucky Derby: Battle of Midway (third at Churchill Downs), Practical Joke (fifth), McCraken (eighth), Irish War Cry (10th), Hence (11th), and Girvin (13th).

Irish War Cry, who finished second in the Belmont Stakes following his Derby effort, is the 5-2 morning-line favorite. Though he’s the only one of the classic horses that hasn’t run since the Triple Crown races, the New Jersey-bred will be ready for the race, as his owner Isabelle de Tomaso badly wants to win the race – it’s named after her father, former Monmouth Park president Amory Haskell.

All the other Derby runners have shown good form since their efforts at Churchill Downs. Battle of Midway won the Affirmed Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita, Practical Joke took out the Dwyer Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park, McCraken won the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, Hence was victorious in the Iowa Derby (G3), and Girvin was beaten a nose in the Ohio Derby (G3) by another Derby runner, Irap.

The lone horse without Triple Crown credentials in the Haskell can’t be ignored, however. Timeline, who like Practical Joke and Cloud Computing is trained by Chad Brown, is unbeaten in four starts, including the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) and the Pegasus Stakes (G3). He is rated the morning-line second favorite at 3-1.

Both races will be influential in deciding which horse eventually is named champion 3-year-old male. It will also help connections decide whether the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where they could face top older horses Arrogate and Gun Runner, is a possibility. It will be an exciting weekend.

(Jon Kral/Maryland Jockey Club Photo)