Imagining seeks second Grade 1 victory in Sword Dancer Invitational
By John Scheinman | 08/14/2014 05:40 PM ET
The Phipps Stable is in the business of developing stakes horses, and if a horse shows promise, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has license to take all the time he needs to let that potential be realized.
Imagining is such a horse. The son of Giant's Causeway signaled his quality when second at 13-1 in the 2011 Grade 1 Hollywood Derby, yet it took 21 months after that before Imagining won any kind of stakes race.
The slow development has done him good, and now, at age 6, Imagining has become a major force in the high-end turf marathon ranks. He goes off as one of the favorites Sunday in the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational, a premier 1 ½-mile grass race for 3-year-olds and up at Saratoga Race Course.
The Sword Dancer, along with the $100,000 Alydar Stakes for older horses, will be televised as part of The Jockey Club Tour on FOX, which makes its third visit of the summer to the historic Spa.
The show will air from 5-6:30 p.m. EDT on FOX Sports 1, FOX Deportes, and FOX Sports Go. On-air duties will be handled by NYRA's Richard Migliore, Andy Serling and Maggie Wolfendale along with Greg Wolf and Simon Bray.
Since breaking through last August with a powerful, front-running score in the restricted Idle Rich Stakes, Imagining has won the ungraded Bowl Game and the Grade 3 Red Smith Handicap, finished second in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and won the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes. In his most recent start, the Grade 1 Knob Creek Manhattan on June 7, he was uncharacteristically far back and then six wide in the upper stretch before finishing sixth.
"He had a real good year last year," McGaughey said of Imagining, 7-2 on the morning line. "He just had some little things, little injuries that kept him from being better earlier on. We got all that behind him last summer. He had a good fall and obviously has had a pretty good year this year."
McGaughey would like Imagining to race in the clear in the Sword Dancer, and his best work has been done running near the pace.
"He doesn't ever like to be in a jumble," McGaughey said. "If he can get a clear shot, he's fine. The day of the Red Smith [November 16 at Aqueduct], he was back, but he was on the outside and in the clear. I think he has a little bit of a problem if he gets all jammed up or stopped or something to that effect."
War Dancer, 8-1, enters the Sword Dancer for Diamond M Stable and trainer Ken McPeek off a third-place, half-length loss to Finnegan's Wake in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap on July 12. Winner two starts back in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap at the 1 ½-mile distance at Churchill Downs, the son of War Front has run at eight tracks in a 14-race career. Last year, he made rare foray off the turf and finished sixth behind Will Take Charge in the Travers.
"The distance suits him and he's doing quite well," McPeek said. "The Arlington race, there were two choices - a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half [in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes on July 12], and he's won graded stakes at both distances. It looked like the mile and a quarter came up a little easier with a shorter field, but he stumbled a little and that cost him the win."
Diamond M principal owner Tony Malatino lives in Saratoga.
Although 0-for-5 at the 1 ½-mile distance on the turf, Flaxman Holding's Main Sequence is coming off a strong score in his United States debut, a victory in the Grade 1 United Nations on July 6 at Monmouth Park.
Trained by Graham Motion, the 5-year-old gelded son of Aldebaran competed in top company when racing in England and finished second in the 2012 Group 1 Epsom Derby.
The United Nations was his first start over firm ground, and he relished it and the 1 3/8-mile distance. He is the 2-1 favorite on the morning line.
"I think there's some question as to what his best distance is," Motion said. "He certainly handled the [1 3/8-mile] distance at Monmouth. I don't see a mile and a half being a problem for him, especially on firm turf on a tight course."
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott will run Amira's Prince, sixth last out to Imagining in the Man o' War on May 11 at Belmont Park. The 5-year-old was privately purchased by Wachtel Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and Gary Barber after running the first seven races of his career in Ireland. He reeled off four straight wins, two in Grade 2 stakes, before finishing third in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap behind winner Lochte and Imagining.
He bounced back to finish second by a neck in a Grade 2 stakes at Fair Grounds, but was given a break after the loss in the Man o' War.
"We gave him a little time after the last clunker, thinking we'd freshen him up a little bit," Mott said of his 6-1 shot. "A mile and a half suits him. We hope he returns to his old form. His [disappointing performance in the Man o' War] was just one of those things. I hope he doesn't do it again."
Twilight Eclipse (5-2), second by a neck in the United Nations and the world-record holder at the distance; Perfect Timber (12-1) and O'Prado Ole (15-1) complete the field.
The FOX telecast will feature a tribute to NYRA announcer Tom Durkin, who will retire August 31 after calling races at NYRA racetracks for 24 years. It will also spotlight 2-year-old colts Jess's Dream and Cozmic One, the first foals out of Horses of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, respectively. Both colts are currently in training at Saratoga Race Course.
The field for the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational: