For years, the Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga Race Course had to battle it out for the best older turf horses with the Arlington Million Stakes. With the Arlington Million cancelled this year, Saturday's Grade 1 Sword Dancer looms as the best option for East Coast turfers. It even attracted a foreign shipper for this year’s edition, adding some intrigue to a highly competitive and evenly matched field. The Sword Dancer is a Challenge Series "Win and You're In" qualifying race for the Nov. 7 Longines Breeders' Cup Turf.
1. Highland Sky: He was moved up to second in the Aug. 1 Bowling Green Stakes, but he was really an innocent bystander. Unaffected by the bumping, he turned in his typical late run to grab a spot in the exotics. He’s a definite threat to appear in the superfecta, but he’s only won five of 29 starts, so a win bet seems quite risky. He’s also unplaced in all four of his starts at the 12-furlong distance.
JOCKEY: Junior Alvarado TRAINER: Barclay Tagg
2. Aquaphobia: He handled the stretchout to 1 3/8 miles quite well in his last start, winning the Grade 1 United Nations Stakes at Monmouth Park, and the added furlong here shouldn’t faze him. The main question is whether he can put together two straight wins after winning just two of his last 12 starts.
JOCKEY: Irad Ortiz Jr. TRAINER: Mike Maker
3. Marzo: He’s the rabbit among trainer Mike Maker’s three starters, but don’t dismiss him that quickly. He only lost by 2 ¼ lengths in the Bowling Green after opening an early five-length lead. It’s unlikely anyone will run with him early and if jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. can rein him in a bit, maybe he can hang around to the end.
JOCKEY: Ricardo Santana Jr. TRAINER: Mike Maker
4. Channel Maker: He probably took the worst of it when Sadler’s Joy drifted in during the stretch run in the Bowling Green. Even with a clean trip, it seemed unlikely that he was going to win, but the bumping definitely cost him a shot at finishing third. Like a lot of the others in this field, he doesn’t win much – he’s 1 for his last 12 – but he likes the distance and maybe it’s his turn to register a winning effort.
JOCKEY: Manny Franco TRAINER: Bill Mott
5. Corelli: This will be his third U.S. start after a nine-month layoff and sometimes the third time is the charm. He took a nice step forward with a third-place finish in the U.N. and continued improvement will make him a major factor in a wide-open race.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario TRAINER: Jonathon Thomas
6. Cross Border: He benefitted from the DQ in the Bowling Green and was declared the winner after losing by a neck. He was bumped by Sadler’s Joy and then, in turn, he bumped Channel Maker. He might have won without the trouble, but it would have been a tight finish, showing how very little separates most of the horses in this field. You can expect another big effort from him, but will it be enough?
JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz TRAINER: Mike Maker
7. Pedro Cara: He’s the dangerous newcomer. After racing in Qatar during the winter, he was sent to America to train with Graham Motion. He’ll be making his second U.S. start; last year, he was second, beaten by a nose, in the Jockey Club Derby at 1 ½ miles in a pretty good time. If this 4-year-old has developed at all since then, he should be formidable. Given the way the others seem to take turns winning, he’s a very interesting option.
JOCKEY: John Velazquez TRAINER: Graham Motion
8. Sadler’s Joy: Few horses show up and compete every time like this 7-year-old, so it was disappointing to see him come down in the Bowling Green. Constantly running against top-notch company, he’s been in the money 21 times in a 31-start career, but he’s only won seven times and is 2 for his last 12 tries. He gets a four-pound weight break, which will help, and seems a logical but shaky favorite.
JOCKEY: Javier Castellano TRAINER: Tom Albertrani
THE PICK: Pedro Cara
LIVE LONGSHOT: Aquaphobia