SARATOGA SPRINGS — On Friday during a scheduled media availability outside of the races, jockey Manny Franco gushed about how easy it is to ride Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Tiz the Law.
On Saturday, his ride in the Grade I Sword Dancer was more like a Mission Impossible assignment.
But heavy rain and a front-running trip allowed Channel Maker to dig his way through the soft turf to a seemingly easy 5 3/4-length victory over Cross Border, his first win in 11 starts since spring of 2019.
Besides the cushiony ground, Channel Maker and Franco benefited from a trip in which the 6-year-old veteran of the Grade I turf battles was allowed to get away from company and just run his race, which he did for a mile and a half.
“”He’s not an easy horse to ride,” Franco said. “We try to go to the lead, but sometimes he doesn’t break good. But today, we were able to make it and he was traveling the whole way fine and handled the soft ground really well.
“The plan is to go to lead, but sometimes he doesn’t, so I think warming him up helped him today. I made the lead and tried to open up to let them know I wanted to go and they let me go. It worked out good for me.”
“Oh, he’s very tricky,” trainer Bill Mott said. “I mean, you can see how level he was coming through the stretch, he was straight as an arrow. But if he gets in a crowd, sometimes he’ll get his head up or he’ll bear in or away from horses. He’s not an easy horse. He wouldn’t be what every rider wants. But in this particular case, everything went well for him and he finished up well, and he finished up straight and strong.”
“After 20 years and him getting my first Grade I winner, he means a lot to me,” co-owner Randy Hill said. “He got the ride we wanted. He’s hard to ride and Manny fits him well. But what people didn’t realize is that he loves soft ground. He was 3-for-4 on a soft turf, and today is four out of five. I thought it was a spectacular run by the horse.”
Channel Maker has now run in 18 Grade I races in his 35-race career, having finished behind the likes of Enable, Bricks and Mortar and Zulu Alpha.
He has won just six times while banking over $2.5 million in purses.
Most recently, he was a close fourth to Sadler’s Joy in the Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga, a race in which Sadler’s Joy was disqualified and placed fourth. Five of the six Bowling Green horses came back for the Sword Dancer, but Channel Maker got into his comfort zone and never came back to the field.
“He was strong through the stretch,” Mott said. “He ran a powerful race, he loves the going here, he likes it here. He’s tough when he turns for home on the lead.
“We thought maybe the three horse, Marzo, probably could be on the lead, and we thought we might be laying second. But an opportunity presented itself to be on the lead, the jockey accepted the opportunity and it worked out very well. Sometimes you make the right decision, and he certainly did today.”
“We were facing a Grade I winner, and he got loose today on the soft turf and he liked it,” said Jose Ortiz, who rode Cross Border. “It was hard for everybody to catch up. It was very hard to get going from the half-mile to the three-eighths pole.
“The second time we passed the three-eighths pole, it was getting very messy, but Aquaphobia made a good move and I tried to follow him. But he struggled, too, and it was hard to make up ground. My horse gave me a little kick, but it was really late passing the three-sixteenths pole when he finally got a good grip on the outside part of the course and gave me a good run. But it wasn’t good enough.”
Mott said Channel Maker is comfortable with the series of long turf stakes in New York, but the Breeders’ Cup — at Keeneland this year — is a lofty goal.
Channel Maker was 11th by 42 3/4 lengths in the BC Turf in 2018 and 12th to Bricks and Mortar last year.
“That water gets very deep,” Mott said. “We’ve tried it a couple times and it hasn’t worked out with him. You get a whole different group of horses. But who knows?There was a year at Keeneland where it was a bottomless ground, and if that situation came up, maybe he would benefit from it.”
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