For the third time this summer the racing action on the Jockey Club Tour on Fox hits beautiful Saratoga, with a field of seven lining up in the 40th running of the Grade 1 $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational.
The 1 1/2 mile turf marathon figures to produce a couple of major contenders for the Grade 1 $3 million Breeders’ Cup Turf, which is now just over two months away. The Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
The 90-minute Jockey Club Tour on Fox telecast gets underway at 5 p.m. ET. The on-air duties will be handled by Greg Wolf, Richard Migliore, Andy Serling, Simon Bray and Alyssa Ali.
The telecast will feature a tribute to announcer Tom Durkin, who will be retiring August 31 after calling races at New York Racing Association (NYRA) racetracks for 24 years. Durkin was the voice of the Breeders’ Cup for more than two decades and called 30 consecutive Triple Crown races.
Durkin has made too many legendary calls to count in big races, and even many memorable ones in races like this maiden special weight affair back in 2008:
Larry Collmus, who replaced Durkin calling the Triple Crown races, will take over the microphone in New York from the legend, but will not start until April. John Imbriale will handle the duties until then.
The $100,000 Alydar will also be televised live on Fox. The nine-furlong dirt race features a familiar face in Alpha, who was involved in a dead-heat for the win in the 2012 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
Trainer Graham Motion will send out the Sword Dancer morning line favorite Main Sequence (2-1), who is coming into the race off a game neck win in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park on July 8. The gelding was making his first start off nearly a nine-month layoff.
Motion, who trained 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, won the Sword Dancer in 2004 with Better Talk Now, who went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Animal Kingdom is now busy with his second career as a sire, and his first foal was born this week at Arrowfield Stud in Australia.
Motion does not see the extra ground in the Sword Dancer as an obstacle. "I think there's some question as to what his best distance is," Motion told John Scheinman of the NYRA. "He certainly handled the [1 3/8-mile] distance at Monmouth. I don't see a mile and a half being a problem for him, especially on firm turf on a tight course."
The price may end up on the light side on Main Sequence, so I am seeking out more value for my wagering bankroll.
Here are my top three selections for the Sword Dancer:
Win: Amira’s Prince
Amira's Prince did not fire last out as the 9-5 betting favorite in the Man O' War (G1) over ground landed as good, tracking the early pace and weakening to finish sixth.
The runner-up in the race was Real Solution, who came back to win the Manhattan (G1) and was one of the favorites in Saturday's Arlington Million (G1). The fourth-place finisher Frac Daddy won his next two starts in Canada, taking the Eclipse (G2) and the Dominion Day (G3).
Trained by Hall-of-Famer Bill Mott, this guy won his first four starts in the U.S., and although he has now lost three in row, he ran well in his other losses.
He was a decent third in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (G1) off a long layoff and suffered a neck loss in the Mervin H. Muniz Jr. Handicap (G2) over soft ground. He comes back here off a three-month break, and the barn is solid with layoff types. I am looking for a much better effort out of him today, and the 6-1 morning line looks more than fair.
Place: Twilight Eclipse
Twilight Eclipse tracked the early pace while saving ground, angled out for the stretch drive and battled on gamely to get beaten just a neck in the United Nations (G1) by Main Sequence. The gelding bounced back off a fourth-place finish in the Belmont Gold Cup two back going two miles and his disappointing effort in Dubai back in March.
The gelding has a couple of wins on turf at today's distance including winning the Pan American (G2) last year and ran a solid second in this race last year, beaten a length by Big Blue Kitten. The Tom Albertrani trainee appears headed in the right direction form wise.
Imagining did not fire his best last out in a sixth place finish in the Manhattan. The six-year-old came into the race having won three of his four previous starts including the Man O' War two back over Real Solution.
He has shown an ability to win taking the field gate to wire or sit off the pace, but is not proven at today's 1 1/2 mile distance. He returns here off a two-month break for the McGaughey barn that is 20 percent winners with horses coming back off a 46-90 day break.
Morning line odds courtesy of Equibase
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