Trouble was that Curlin, making his turf debut, wasn’t the winner.
That distinction belonged to the Irish-bred Red Rocks, whose trainer, Brian Meehan, told anyone in earshot after the race: “Today, (Red Rocks) confirmed he is one of the best middle distance turf horses in the world and has been for the last two, three years.”
Meanwhile, on Saturday afternoon, J.Paul Reddam’s Red Rocks will get another chance to get the attention he deserves when he takes on some salty grass specialists in the 34th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational for three-year-old and up at a mile and a half.
The Sword Dancer is the co-feature on the day with the 128th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama for three-year-old fillies at a mile and a quarter on the main track.
The Sword Dancer will be Red Rocks’ first start under the care of trainer Mark Hennig, who took over from Meehan after the Man o’War. Hennig, who also trains for Robsham, hit the jackpot, as Red Rocks, the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, is on a schedule likely to include Belmont Park’s Grade 1, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at a mile and a half on September 27 and the Grade 1, $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita on October 25 at the same distance.
“He showed so much in the Man o’War,” Meehan said from his yard at Manton House Stables in Marlborough, Wiltshire, England, about 20 miles north of Stonehenge. “We avoided Epsom with him when he was a three-year-old and again last year because he just doesn’t like it there. This year, he again showed us that he doesn’t like Epsom.
“But he has proved himself throughout his career. In 2006, he beat Papal Bull (in the Group 2 King Edward VII at Ascot). I know Papal Bull can be quirky, but he is still a wonderful race horse. Then, he came back and ran second to Rail Link, who went on to win the (2006) Arc de Triomphe, shipped to America and beat Better Talk Now and English Channel in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (at Churchill Downs). Last year’s Breeders’ Cup was run in atrocious conditions, and he still ran third. And now, he’s beaten Curlin on grass.
“The plan has always been to keep him with Mark (Hennig) after the Man o’War and point for the Breeders’ Cup. I’m sure there is always a period of adjustment for a horse and the people caring for him, and vice versa, but my understanding is that everything so far has been spot-on with Mark; no hiccups Red Rocks is just a straight-forward horse. He’s easy to get along with and always has been.”
Trainer Bobby Ribaudo got his first Grade 1 victory last year when Grand Couturier came up the inside under jockey Calvin Borel to win the 2007 Sword Dancer. He is winless in four tries since, and Borel is unavailable to ride but the five-year-old Grand Lodge horse is on a mission to repeat. Jockey Alan Garcia has the mount.
“Of course, last year, we had an ideal set-up,” Ribaudo said. “This will be a different scenario this year. Naturally, the course will be a lot softer because of the all the rain we’ve had, and the pace will probably be a lot softer.
“That being said, his first race back this year he closed into a very slow pace going a mile and a quarter and only got beat a half-length. Everything is a `go’ with him. He’s doing well, and we’ve been able to get some works into him on the turf, despite the rain.”
Bushwood Stable’s venerable Better Talk Now, who had to scratch last year the day before the Sword Dancer, is here to match John’s Call as the only 9-year-olds to win the Sword Dancer. He won this race as a 5-year-old in 2004, the same year he won the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and won Belmont Park’s Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap in 2007. He was second by a half-length to Red Rocks in the ’06 Breeders’ Cup Turf, and would love to settle that score here.
Hall of Fame trainer “Shug” McGaughey will saddle Phipps Stable’s Manhattan Handicap winner Dancing Forever here. The 5-year-old Rahy horse has won three of his last four starts, with the only blemish in that span a neck loss to Einstein in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.
Patricia A. Generazio’s Presious Passion jumped up to win Monmouth Park’s Grade 1 United Nations Handicap on July 5. She won by a neck over Strike a Deal over a yielding course.
Grade 2 winner Champs Elysees (GB) and Equitable, who was third in the United Nations, complete the field.
The field for Saturday’s Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational:
PP. HORSE TRAINER JOCKEY WGT.
1. Equitable Bill Mott Kent Desormeaux 116
2. Grand Couturier (GB) Robert Ribaudo Alan Garcia 120
3. Red Rocks (IRE) Mark Hennig Javier Castellano 123
4. Interpatation Bobby Barbara Jose Espinoza 116
5. Presious Passion Mary Hartmann Eddie Castro 123
6. Better Talk Now H. Graham Motion Ramon Dominguez 120
7. Dancing Forever Shug McGaughey Rene Douglas 123
8. Champs Elysees (GB) Bobby Frankel Edgar Prado 118