SARATOGA SPRINGS — There’s a Bowling Green reunion on Saturday.
It was nothing to do with the university in Ohio.
Five of the six horses who ran in the Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga Race Course will bang heads again in the Grade I Sword Dancer on Saturday, stretching out one more furlong to a mile and a half.And the Bowling Green was a bit of a head-banger — or head-scratcher, depending on who you ask — after Sadler’s Joy finished first but was disqualified for a bumping incident near the sixteenth pole that gave the victory to Cross Border.
Sadler’s Joy comes back to the Sword Dancer for the fourth year in a row as a slight morning-line favorite, at 5-2. His busy 2020 season has included two losses to Zulu Alpha and a third by three-quarters of a length in the Grade I Manhattan on July 4.
“He’s been one of the most consistent turf horses going these longer distances,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “He still continues to do well. He’s still strong and he’s pretty bright. You’d never tell looking at him. He doesn’t show his age.”
The Sword Dancer is the last of four graded stakes on the card, which also includes the Grade I Forego, the Grade II Amsterdam sprint for 3-year–olds and the Grade III Saranac for 3-year-olds on the turf.
Sadler’s Joy won the Sword Dancer in 2017, was sixth in 2018 and just missed last year, second by a neck to Annals of Time.
Another Sword Dancer regular, Channel Maker, will run for the third year in a row, and Highland Sky ran in it in 2018, skipping it last year in favor of the John’s Call, which he won easily on a sloppy track.
Besides Sadler’s Joy, the New York-bred Cross Border, Channel Maker and Highland Sky, Marzo races back out of the Bowling Green. He was fifth by just 2 1/4 lengths and is one of three from trainer Mike Maker in the Sword Dancer, along with Cross Border and another old turf warrior, Grade I United Nations winner Aquaphobia.
Including the win by DQ, Cross Border is 5-for-5 at Saratoga, including the Lubash 10 days before the Bowling Green.
“I don’t know what it is about Saratoga, but he seems to flourish up here,” said Maker assistant Nolan Ramsey. “Not only does he show it in his past performances, but physically the horse does well up here. His coat looks great and he really enjoys his training. We nicknamed him ‘The Machine,’ because he just really gets into his training.”
Well, nobody was scared away by Volatile in the Forego.
That’s because Volatile, considered the best sprinter in North America after his win in the A.G. Vanderbilt, isn’t running in the Forego.
So there will be nearly a full starting gate — and plenty of options for bettors — in the seven-furlong Grade I stakes, including 2018 winner Whitmore.
He’s the 7-2 favorite off a second by a length and a quarter in the Vanderbilt and will be looking to shake a reputation for being a horse for the course at Oaklawn Park.
“I’ve always been able to draw the line through that excuse,” trainer Ron Moquett said. “I hear gamblers say that he’s an Oaklawn horse, but people forget that we ran behind the champion sprinter Roy H in the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill. He’s run against Mitole, where he had to go up against the track bias at Santa Anita and make up ground to run third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last year. So, he’s always been a horse that’s been able to put up a strong effort anywhere.”
At 7, Whitmore would be the oldest winner in 41 runnings of the Forego.
He’ll face a stiff challenge from 10 rivals, including the New York-bred Funny Guy, who will make a rare attempt at open stakes company, the Chad Brown-trained Complexity, Grade II True North winner Firenze Fire, who was second to Mitole in the Forego last year, and Mind Control, the 2018 Hopeful winner and 2019 Allen Jerkens winner at the same distance as the Forego.
Mind Control was third in the A.G. Vanderbilt, a half-length behind Whitmore.
“He came out of the Vanderbilt in great shape,” trainer Gregg Sacco said. “Volatile is arguably the best sprinter in the country, and Mind Control ran a dynamite race. It wasn’t our original plan to cut him back to six furlongs. He didn’t run his race in the Carter, but he didn’t care for the track. He didn’t really benefit from that, so we wanted a solid race like the Vanderbilt in preparation for the Forego.”
Basin, who hasn’t finished first since the Grade I Hopeful at Saratoga last year, will get back to sprinting while running for a new trainer, Todd Pletcher, in the Grade II Amsterdam at six furlongs on the main track.
Previously trained by Steve Asmussen, Basin actually has a victory since the Hopeful, but it came in a division of the Arkansas Derby in which Basin was six lengths behind Charlatan. Over two months later, Charlatan was disqualified by the Arkansas Racing Commission because of drug overages, giving Basin the victory.
In the Amsterdam, he’ll race shorter than a mile and a sixteenth for the first time since the seven-furlong Hopeful.
“We’ll see how he responds to the cutback in distance,” Pletcher said.
Long Weekend is the 9-5 favorite, also benefiting from a disqualification in his previous start, from third to second in the Gold Fever on a sloppy track at Belmont on July 10.
“There’s no secret to our game plan,” trainer Tom Amoss said. “He’s very, very fast out the gate and we’re going to try and use that speed. We were a little disappointed with how things turned out at Belmont with the track condition and not breaking well that day, which was very uncharacteristic of him. We thought he fought hard but was certainly compromised right at the start of the race. We’re looking to make amends for that.”
Also on the card, 3-year-olds will tackle a mile on the inner turf — weather permitting — in the Grade III Saranac, carded as the third race.
In what appears to be a wide-open field, Vanzzy is the 7-2 favorite off a win in the Jersey Derby at Monmouth Park on July 26.
Also in the field is the Bill Parcells-owned Three Technique, who will try turf for the first time — provided the Saranac stays on the turf.
He’s coming off a 10th in the Allen Jerkens on Aug. 1.