Matt Schera's Glorious Empire, front-running upset winner of Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Sword Dancer, is expected to return to New York for his final prep before the Breeders' Cup.
Trainer James “Chuck” Lawrence II said Sunday morning that he planned to bring the 7-year-old gelding to Belmont Park for the Grade 1, $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at 1 ¼ miles on September 29 which, like the Sword Dancer, is a “Win and You're In” event for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf November 3 at Churchill Downs.
Lawrence was pleased with how Glorious Empire emerged from the 1 ½-mile Sword Dancer, his third consecutive win and second straight in a graded stakes at Saratoga, following his dead-heat victory with Channel Maker in the Grade 2 Bowling Green on July 28.
“He seems great. We gave him a bath and I took him out and grazed him, and he's no worse for wear,” said Lawrence, who has been stabled the past week in Barn 1 across Nelson Avenue from the Clare Court trotting track. “We'll definitely consider the Joe Hirsch and definitely point for the Breeders' Cup, if it all works out.
“The Breeders' Cup was not an option or goal or anything before the Saratoga meet, I can tell you that,” he added. “Our goal with him when he first came to me was, Matt wanted to win a race at Saratoga. We obtained that goal.”
Glorious Empire was claimed by Schera for $62,500 last May at Belmont and made four starts for trainer Carlos Martin before getting a break. He was sent to Lawrence upon his return, and made his seasonal debut running sixth in the one-mile Henry S. Clark on April 21 at Laurel Park.
He followed with wins in an optional claimer going about 1 1/8 miles on June 28 at Delaware Park and the Bowling Green, which was contested at 1 3/8 miles over a soft inner turf course. The Sword Dancer was Glorious Empire's 23rd start, having begun his career in England and having raced and won there and Hong Kong before coming to North America in the fall of 2016.
“The horse has been all over the world with a bunch of different other trainers. They all thought this horse had the talent,” Lawrence said. “They were going a little shorter with him and he was actually sent to me with the thinking of maybe sprinting him. With his beautiful stride and trying to get him to relax a little bit, we decided to try and go the other way and go further with him. It's just all come together.”
Lawrence and his family relived the Sword Dancer at dinner with Schera and his wife Saturday evening. He said Glorious Empire would ship back to his base at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland Sunday night and likely have one work prior to the Joe Hirsch.
“He'll have about a week off, going out back at home and just hack around and be a horse. That's the normal schedule for him,” Lawrence said. “We were pretty tired, but we did celebrate a little bit. It still hasn't sunk in quite 100 percent. I guess once everything slows down and I get to really thinking about it, it will. To win at Saratoga, a Grade 1, 'Win and You're In,' it's the ultimate.”
The win was especially meaningful for Lawrence, a former steeplechase jockey who won 136 races and more than $2 million in purse earnings from 787 starts between 1983 and 2003. Among his Saratoga riding victories were the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Cup with Chief of the Clan in 1987 and Warm Spell in 1993, who would go on to capture the Breeders' Cup Grand National Hurdle in 1994.
“To win at Saratoga is just really special. Having ridden here as a young adult, it's just special to win here probably more than any other place,” he said. “I was very successful here. I didn't ride that long, but I rode very nice horses. I was very lucky.”
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