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Jared previews the 2023 Sword Dancer Stakes (G1) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots from this “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
A field of 7 is set to tussle on the turf, including the 2020 race winner Channel Maker, but who does Jared like best to bring home the bacon? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
The evergreen 9-year-old Channel Maker will strive for a rare feat in Saturday’s 49th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer going 1 1/2 miles over the inner turf at Saratoga Race Course.
The Sword Dancer is a “Win And You’re In” qualifier offering an automatic entry into the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Santa Anita. Previous horses to capture the Sword Dancer and Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year include Theatrical, Fraise, Better Talk Now  and Main Sequence .
The Sword Dancer, slated as Race 11, is one of five Grade 1 events on Saturday’s lucrative 13-race card headlined by the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers for 3-year-olds going 10 furlongs. Also on the card is the Grade 1 $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial for 3-year-olds going seven furlongs, the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego for older horses going seven furlongs and the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina – a “Win And You’re In” for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint – for older fillies and mares sprinting seven furlongs.
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Channel Maker kicked off his career in July 2016 and has covered plenty of ground since, compiling a record of 54-10-6-5 and lifetime earnings of $3,890,358 through a total of seven graded stakes victories. The Ontario-bred son of English Channel captured the 2020 Sword Dancer and will make his sixth straight appearance in the prestigious 12-furlong turf test.
Should Channel Maker win the Sword Dancer, he would become the fourth 9-year-old horse to earn a Grade 1 triumph at a NYRA track, according to data provided by Equibase. In accomplishing the feat, he would join John’s Call who captured the 2000 Sword Dancer and Turf Classic Invitational at nine, as well as Hall of Famer John Henry who won the 1984 Turf Classic as a 9-year-old. This May, Trinity Farm’s New York-bred 9-year-old Red Knight won the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont Park.
“It’s surprising that any horse is a graded stakes winner at nine, much less Channel Maker, and much less at Saratoga,” said his Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who saddled previous Sword Dancer winners Theatrical , Fraise , and Broadway Flyer .
After earning his first graded stakes triumph when dead-heating with Glorious Empire in the Grade 2 Bowling Green in 2018, he finished second to the same foe in the Sword Dancer before finishing fourth in 2019. He finished a respective sixth and tenth in 2021 and 2022.
Channel Maker stamped himself as a legitimate horse in the older male turf division in 2018 when capturing the Bowling Green, two starts before earning a Grade 1 triumph in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park. He returned to action the following year to defeat Arklow by a neck in the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont Park, later finishing second by a half-length to that rival in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.
But arguably his best season took place in 2020 when he earned Eclipse Award honors for Champion Turf Male. After a 5 3/4-length gate-to-wire dominance in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, he captured his second Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic en route to a third-place finish behind Tarnawa in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland. All three efforts earned career-high 108 Beyer Speed Figures.
After a winless season in 2021, Channel Maker made amends with a victorious 2022 debut in the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland before staving off Solider Rising in the Grand Couturier two starts later at Belmont Park.
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Randy Hill of R.A. Hill Stable, who co-owns Channel Maker with Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, spoke of how remarkable it is to have a horse as consistent and durable as Channel Maker.
“He’s some kind of horse,” Hill said. “Billy says that this horse just loves what he does, he loves to train, he loves to run, and he loves going out to the track.”
Channel Maker has done his best running when on the front end, utilizing pacesetting tactics en route to a two-length conquest last out on July 30 in the Bowling Green.
“If you let him get on the lead and get comfortable on the lead, he’s tough to beat,” Hill noted. “When he turned for home with the lead last time, I couldn’t be more confident. I knew he wasn’t letting anybody go by him. He’s a mean old dude.”
A win in the Sword Dancer could propel the iron horse back to the Breeders’ Cup Turf, a race he has competed in every year since 2018.
“Obviously he’s gotten older, but he still gives you everything he’s got every time he steps out on to the track,” Hill said. “It’d be something if he could go out there and win it. If he does, then you have to think about the Breeders’ Cup again.”
Manny Franco, who has piloted Channel Maker to three of his eight graded stakes victories, will be back aboard from post 6.
Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Westerberg’s Bolshoi Ballet arrives from Ballydoyle Training Center in Ireland in search of his first triumph since taking the 2021 Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational before finishing fourth in the Saratoga Derby Invitational and Jockey Club Derby Invitational at Belmont Park.
Bolshoi Ballet, an Aidan O’Brien-trained son of Galileo, enters from a distant sixth at triple-digit odds in the Group 1 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth II Diamond in July over good to soft ground at Ascot. The 5-year-old bay did finish in the money in his other three starts this season, rounding out the trifecta behind group stakes winning stablemate Emily Dickinson in the Vintage Crop in April going 1 3/4 miles over heavy ground at Navan. He was also a close third in the Group 3 Al Rayaan in May at Newbury before finishing second in the Wolferton in June at Royal Ascot.
O’Brien’s traveling assistant T.J. Comerford said Bolshoi Ballet would prefer firmer footing.
“He’s arrived in good order – he’s grand and fresh. We’re hoping he’s starting to pick it up now and he’s back to somewhere near where he should be,” said Comerford. “You’re not going to get your ground at home at the moment, it’s been very wet. He’s run in a few races this year and he’s been stepping up all the time. His run at Newbury was a good run for him going a mile and a half.”
Bolshoi Ballet was highly regarded early in his sophomore season, arriving at the Group 1 Epsom Derby as the favorite after two Group 3 conquests going 10 furlongs at Leopardstown.
Despite being 0-for-5 going 1 1/2 miles, Comerford expressed confidence in Bolshoi Ballet getting the distance.
“A mile and a quarter at home is fine for him, but he seems to stay the mile and a half,” Comerford said. “He looks really well. He’s developed lovely from being a 3-year-old and he’s a very good horse to travel. He’s a fine horse and if he could win on Saturday it would make him that bit better again to stand.”
Bolshoi Ballet, bred in Ireland by Lynch-Bages and Rhinestone Bloodstock, is out of the Anabaa mare Alta Anna. He is a full-brother to Southern France, who was a dual group-winning stayer in Ireland and Australia. He also comes from the same extended family as multiple group winner Bewitched.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will pick up the mount from post 3.
Grade 1-placed Stone Age [post 7, Flavien Prat] will make his debut for four-time Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown, who seeks his fourth Sword Dancer triumph.
Owned by Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith, Westerberg and Peter Brant, Stone Age finished second in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Keeneland for previous trainer Aidan O’Brien and also was a close third in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational.
The 4-year-old Galileo dark bay was last seen finishing a distant 12th in the Group 1 HH The Amir Trophy in February at Doha Racecourse in Qatar.
“He’s been very straightforward since I got him,” Brown said. “He’s done very well and has been on a nice, steady work pattern.”
Bred in Ireland by Brant’s White Birch Farm, Stone Age is out of the Anaaba mare Bonanza Creek, who is a half-sister to 2002 French Champion 3-Year-Old Filly Bright Sky.
Trainer Christophe Clement saddled 2021-22 Sword Dancer winner Gufo and sends out Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables, and Wonder Stables’ Solider Rising [post 1, Jose Ortiz], who finished third in last year’s Sword Dancer.
The 5-year-old Frankel gelding also boasts three other Grade 1 placings when second in the 2021 Saratoga Derby as well as this year’s Man o’ War and Manhattan – both at Belmont.
Trainer Robert Ribuado and owner Marc Keller captured back-to-back editions of the Sword Dancer in 2007-08 with Grand Couturier and return this year with two-time winner Daunt [post 4, Javier Castellano]. The 4-year-old Nyquist dark bay finished second in his first three starts this year over Belmont’s inner turf before finishing fourth in the Bowling Green, 4 1/4 lengths behind Channel Maker.
Bowling Green runner-up Verstappen [post 2, Declan Cannon] will attempt to turn the tables on Channel Maker. The Brendan Walsh-trained 4-year-old War Front gelding captured the Grade 2 Elkhorn in April at Keeneland by a head over Red Knight en route to a seventh-place finish in the Man o’ War behind that same rival.
Completing the field is A. Bianco Holding Limited’s Pioneer Spirit [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr.], who has done no wrong since going back to turf. He was scratched from Wednesday’s $135,000 John’s Call in favor of the Sword Dancer.
Trainer Linda Rice haltered the American Pharoah gelding for $40,000 out of a maiden claimer in February at Aqueduct and he has not lost in three starts since winning over the Belmont inner turf in May for the same price. He enters from a local 11-furlong allowance optional claimer on July 27.
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