Watching the replay in the clubhouse at Saratoga Race Course, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott couldn’t contain himself.
He watched as Winchester cut in front of his entry, Al Khali, in deep stretch during the Grade I $500,000 Sword Dancer, reacting dramatically as jockey Alan Garcia had to check Al Khali a bit and settle for third.
The reaction, followed by a laugh, was entirely for the sake of winning trainer Christophe Clement, who was watching beside Mott as Winchester went on to pass Rahy’s Attorney for a win by three-quarters of a length. Winchester and Clement survived a jockey objection by Garcia to retain the win.
“As you can see, we just took him across when Al Khali was finishing,” Clement said. “I still think Winchester was finishing better, but he did come across his line. The main thing is he won, which is great. This is his [fifth] Grade I for a very successful owner, we’ve been very lucky in the past and it’s wonderful.”
Winchester settled into seventh, last in the field, through the first mile before making a move. He was in third entering the stretch, coming around wide, then closing in toward the leaders.
Rahy’s Attorney had run up front most of the way under jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, and Al Khali found running room inside entering the stretch and was soon on the leader’s hip. Garcia, though, had to steady Al Khali as Winchester bore in on Al Khali and Rahy’s Attorney, cutting off the run Garcia had eyed on the outside of the leader.
“We got lucky. He’s a very nice horse, and that’s what good horses do,” Clement said. “They overcome the trip, they overcome trouble. We just got lucky. . . . At the quarter-pole, he comes five or six wide, [and then] there was an objection against us.”
Less lucky was Rahy’s Attorney. The horse pulled up lame in his left front during the gallop-out.
“He just pulled up lame, but there’s nothing outwardly wrong,” said the veterinarian on call, Larry Bramlage said. “It was the left front, but there’s nothing outwardly apparent.”
Wilson said she noticed something was not quite right with the horse before hopping off.
“Just galloping out, he just took a bad step, and to be right by the horse, I got off him to get him vanned back to the barn so they can assess him and make sure
everything is OK,” Wilson said. “It just seemed that’s what was bugging him when I pulled up. I’m not entirely certain what the rest of it is. It was just as he pulled up, just as he was about to break into a jog, at the half-mile pole.”
Wilson has two runner-up finishes in Saratoga stakes at this meet (with a second in the Grade II Jim Dandy aboard Moonshine Mullin), but said her happiness with her own success was somewhat muted by the trouble with Rahy’s Attorney.
“I’m very pleased. I dreamt of being a jock all my life, and to be able to get out there and get into the game, Saratoga is a premier meet in New York, I’m pleased to have some success,” Wilson said. “But right now, my thoughts are with Rahy, the big horse. He’s an old champ. I’m more concerned about him than anything else.”
John Velazquez was aboard the beaten favorite, Boisterous, who finished fifth. He was within a half-length after 11⁄4 miles of the 11⁄2-mile run on the inner turf, then within a length at the top of the stretch, but couldn’t get the horse to fire.
“The trip was perfect,” Velazquez said. “It opened up for me inside the quarter-pole, but he came with no run. Everything was going the way I wanted, but when I asked him to go, he wasn’t there for me.”
Clement was on hand for the Sword Dancer despite having Gio Ponti in the Arlington Million in Chicago. Gio Ponti came on late through traffic to finish second to Cape Blanco.
“Mr. Firestone and Mrs. Firestone were flying in for the race,” Clement said. “I thought I’ve always been to the Million for the last two or three years, and I thought it made sense to stay behind for once.”