August 14, 2010--
The Sword Dancer Invitational is my least favorite Grade 1 event in Saratoga. Has been since I can remember. It’s just that there is never any buzz surrounding the race, even when a legitimate Grade 1 star shows up.
Everyone has observed, not only me, that the problem with the Sword Dancer is not the Sword Dancer, but the Arlington Million, the storied event that is always run in close proximity to the Sword Dancer.
The only thing the Sword Dancer has going for it is its place on the NYRA calendar. Sort of. There’s a month from the Woodford Reserve Manhattan on Belmont day to the Man o’ War in early July to the Sword Dancer in early to mid August.
The fourth leg--if you even can consider it a leg--is the Joe Hirsch Invitational on October 2, or whatever passes for Breeders’ Cup Preview Day in the modern era.
Because of its proximity to the Million, which will be run next weekend, the Sword Dancer, which doesn’t draw the European set and seldom top class turf runners from other venues, draws Grade 1-½ and Grade 2 types.
Now there’s nothing wrong with that, but it just doesn’t make for a whole lot of excitement.
Horsemen notwithstanding, if the Sword Dancer as presently constructed were eliminated from the Spa calendar, horseplayers wouldn’t need to cross a picket line in order to get in.
But the horse that won last year’s Sword Dancer, and hadn’t won a race since, slipped through on the fence in midstretch to repeat, defeating another previous Sword Dancer winner, Bearpath, and a previous multiple Sword Dancer winner, Grand Couturier.
The idea that Telling would rebound in this race didn’t qualify as a surprise since he had never lost at this course and distance before, even if he was only 1-for-1.
But Garrett Gomez saw fit to take the call, or his agent, Ron Anderson, did, and trainer Steve Hobby had him on the proper schedule to have him peak at 5:50 p.m. today.
The irony given the result is that the winner bided his time, awaited an opening on the fence in midstretch, squeezed through and out kicked his rivals.
Nothing strange about that except that Bearpath bided his time as well, began an explosive run leaving the five-sixteenths marker, his momentum carrying him six wide into the stretch and into the lead at the sixteenth pole, but the ground loss and early move left him wanting 100 yards out.
The irony? It was GG saving ground and sneaking up the fence for the score; Calvin Borel territory. And it was Borel making the wide sweeping move into the stretch, a Gomez trademark. The final time was a highly respectable 2:25.29.
It’s highly unlikely, however, that the first two finishers had their profiles raised significantly as the Sword Dancer just isn’t the race that “makes” horses.
It’s the kind of G1 black type you want on your resume, sandwiched between races that convert top horses into legends. As in life, you are known by the company you keep.
There’s a way the Sword Dancer can become that kind of race and still maintain its current place on the NYRA calendar and I wish I could take credit for the idea but cannot.
It was Jeanne Wood, host of “Saratoga NewsDesk,” among other programs on the Capital-OTB television network, who posited that turning it into a mile race would shake things up the right way.
New York racing needs a Grade 1 mile. There used to be the Kelso in the fall, an important Grade 1 in its day and later a very useful Breeders’ Cup prep. But now New York doesn’t have a G1 turf mile on its schedule.
By changing the distance of the Sword Dancer to a mile, you would attract horses not pointing for the Million. And, of course, Hollywood Park has its Shoemaker Mile and Santa Anita the Kilroe, both G1 miles on turf.
New York should have one, too. As for the Manhattan, Man o’ War and Joe Hirsch, I’m sure the racing office can devise a sensible schedule for those three turf routes.