While Kentucky Derby winner Orb has been the subject of much attention for his recent stay at the Fair Hill Training Center, his stablemate, the 6-year-old turf standout Boisterous, also has spent time lately at the Maryland facility, getting a little rest and relaxation in the midst of the best season of his career.
Back in Saratoga Race Course and fresh and ready off a blistering bullet four-furlong work on August 5, Boisterous is set to headline a stellar field of long-winded turf stars Saturday in the Grade 1, $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational.
The 1½-mile Sword Dancer, for 3-year-olds and up, drew 13 runners, with Big Blue Kitten and Stormy Lord coupled as an entry for owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey. Combined, the runners in the field have amassed 23 graded stakes victories, including four Grade 1's and 10 Grade 2's.
Boisterous, a Phipps homebred son of Distorted Humor, has fashioned a brief but impressive campaign this year, finishing second on the Keeneland Polytrack to Successful Dan in the Grade 3 Ben Ali and then easily winning the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes and the Grade 1 Man o' War at Belmont Park.
In the Monmouth Stakes, Boisterous dispatched Big Blue Kitten, who came back to win the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap. In the Man o' War he beat world record-holder Twilight Eclipse, both of whom are back for the Sword Dancer.
“After he ran in the Man o' War, we sent him down to Fair Hill the next day, just to sort of get him away,” Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey said of Boisterous. “He was going in the cold water therapy down there after being turned out and training.”
Boisterous had one published work at Fair Hill (four furlongs in 48.40 seconds on July 27) and when he returned to Saratoga, he tore through a half-mile in 46.55 over the Oklahoma training track turf, the quickest of 58 that day at the distance.
Boisterous, the 5-2 favorite on the morning line, has won 11 of 21 lifetime starts on the grass but finished fifth in his only 1 ½-mile try, in the 2011 Sword Dancer. McGaughey has confidence the distance will not pose a problem.
“Talking to [Hall of Fame jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] after the Man o' War, he felt like he was better at the longer distances than shorter distances,” McGaughey said. “He said, ‘I can kind of do more with him.' He's gotten now where he relaxes well in his races, so I don't think a mile and a half will be a problem.”
Big Blue Kitten, the 4-1 second choice as part of the entry, also has reached top form this year, winning the United Nations in his most recent start over Sword Dancer entrant Teaks North. The 5-year-old Kitten's Joy horse has won three of five this year for trainer Chad Brown, and he has stretched out in distance in each of his past three outings.
“The horse is pretty versatile, if you look back at his whole career, albeit at a lesser level,” Brown said. “He has won wire-to-wire, he's won from dead last. I think he can adapt to the pace, so the ideal situation in my own head is that he has some pace to run at so I'm not on the lead.”
While multiple graded stakes winner Teaks North, 8-1 on the morning line, is the lone proven front-runner in the field, powerful pace-pressers are signed on for the Sword Dancer.
Twilight Eclipse, 5-1 on the morning line, set a world record of 2:22.63 for 1 ½ miles on the turf in the Grade 2 Pan American Handicap on March 23 at Gulfstream Park. Trained by Tom Albertrani for West Point Thoroughbreds, the 4-year-old gelded son of Purim has been beaten twice since, finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan and then second to Boisterous in the Man o' War.
Both races were contested on ground with give to it, and Albertrani said Twilight Eclipse would appreciate a return to firm footing.
“It's a solid group, but if he runs back to his Gulfstream race – and it looks like we'll be on firmer ground this week – it makes him that much tougher,” he said. “Gulfstream Park that day was really firm, so that is what he likes. The horse looks great. I like how he's going into the race. He's in great, great form.”
Also figuring to be close to the pace is Optimizer, a 4-year-old Calumet Farm colt who has run 22 times the past year and a half for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
The son of English Channel, 6-1 on the morning line, scored in back-to-back Grade 3 stakes races this past winter at the Fair Grounds and also finished second to reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs and second in the Woodford Reserve Manhattan to Point of Entry.
Optimizer is 0-for-2 at the Sword Dancer distance.
“It is definitely a concern,” Lukas said, “but I think it's a concern for some of the others, too. I think it's a little bit farther than his best distance, but he's such a hard-trying horse, he could come alive.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will send out 7-year-old Al Khali, 10-1, for his fourth straight Sword Dancer. The roan son of Medaglia d'Oro has two seconds and a third in the race.
Rounding out the field are six-time stakes winner Stormy Lord, coupled with Big Blue Kitten; Exclusive Strike (15-1), most recently third in the Man o' War; London Lane (20-1), a 50-1 upset winner of the Grade 2 Colonial Turf Cup last out; stakes-winning French import Nutello (12-1); Tahoe Lake, fifth in the Sword Dancer last year; the filly Tannery (20-1), winner of the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay, and Star Channel (30-1).
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