The $1 million Sword Dancer on Saturday at Saratoga has drawn a wide-open field of 10 that includes Funtastic, longshot winner of the Grade 1 United Nations; Grade 1 Manhattan winner Spring Quality; and the top six finishers from the Grade 2 Bowling Green, a race in which the top four crossed the wire within a length of each other.
The 1 1/2-mile turf race, which immediately precedes the Travers as race 10, is a Win and You’re In for the Breeders’ Cup Turf on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs. The winner will receive a fees-paid berth in that $4 million race.
The last four runnings of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer have been won by 2014 turf champion Main Sequence; Flintshire, who doubled up in 2015 and 2016 and was awarded an Eclipse Award after his second score; and Sadler’s Joy, who will be gunning for a repeat victory Saturday for trainer Tom Albertrani.
The Sword Dancer is a key leg in Saturday’s late pick four, NYRA Bets pick five, and the pick six. And, as if the race is not difficult enough, the form of top contenders Hi Happy and Spring Quality is clouded by recent events.
Hi Happy, who is trained by Todd Pletcher, went into the Bowling Green off a close third in the Manhattan, which Spring Quality won in a blanket finish with the first nine finishers were separated by only 1 3/4 lengths. Hi Happy had previously won the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont Park and the Grade 1 Pan American at Gulfstream Park.
Sent off as the 8-5 Bowling Green favorite, Hi Happy tracked pacesetting Glorious Empire to the stretch, but came up empty over the soft course and tired to finish sixth, beaten eight lengths.
Pletcher does not like making excuses for his horses, but termed the race “a total toss-out” because of the heavy going.
“He didn’t care for the ground at all,” Pletcher said earlier this week, “and if it’s not firm Saturday, we won’t run.”
Although there was rain in Saratoga on Wednesday morning, the forecast is for beautiful weather through race day and the footing should be fine. If you liked Hi Happy going into the Bowling Green, there is no reason to get off him now.
Spring Quality’s past performances show that in his last three starts he won the Manhattan, finished second to eventual Arlington Million winner Robert Bruce in the Grade 3 Fort Marcy at Belmont, and won the Grade 3 Red Smith last fall at Aqueduct. What they don’t show is that he shipped to Chicago for the Million, but became dehydrated and had an impaction, which kept him from passing manure properly.
Trainer Graham Motion scratched him from the Million, had him flown to Saratoga, and has worked him twice – an easy half-mile in 52 seconds over soft turf and five furlongs in company with Scholar Athlete, who is entered in race 5 Saturday. They were timed in 1:02.80 over firm turf.
Is he 100 percent recovered?
“It’s a little different for me at Saratoga,” Motion said. “I know how he trains at Fair Hill and it’s easy to judge how he’s doing. I will say he had a proper five-furlong work and galloped out a good seven-eighths.”
Funtastic and Glorious Empire, who lasted for a dead-heat win in the Bowling Green with Channel Maker, appear to have the best early speed in the Sword Dancer. Hi Happy and Spring Quality figure to take up stalking positions. The most dangerous deep closers include Sadler’s Joy, who was beaten only a half-length in the Bowling Green, and 7-year-old Bigger Picture, who was moving well at the finish of the Bowling Green and United Nations in his two most recent starts.
Lightly raced Funtastic is 2 for 2 since Chad Brown stretched him out to a marathon distance, taking a second-level optional-claiming race at 2-1 and the United Nations at 23-1. He raced on the lead in both races.
“This will be much tougher,” Brown admitted. “That said, the horse is improving and I love the way he’s training. If he breaks on top and nobody’s there, he’s very comfortable going to the lead. But I also don’t think he has to be on the lead.”
Jockey Antonio Gallardo scored his first Grade 1 win aboard Funtastic in the U.N., but Jose Ortiz takes over Saturday.
Aidan O’Brien has shipped Seahenge in from Ireland along with Mendelssohn, who will run in the Travers. Seahenge’s last two starts have come on dirt – a fifth in the Dwyer at Belmont and a seventh in the slop in the Pat Day Mile on the Kentucky Derby undercard. He will be stretching out a half-mile in distance off those races.
It is difficult to see how Seahenge fits in the Sword Dancer, but O’Brien doesn’t chase many empty wagons.The 3-year-old will carry 112 pounds and get considerable weight concessions from his older rivals. Irish jockey Wayne Lordan is named to ride.
This story originally appeared on DRF.com.
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