Cross Border seeks third 2020 Spa meet score in Sword Dancer (G1)
by Keith McCalmont
Trainer Mike Maker will saddle a trio of top contenders, led by New York-bred Cross Border, who will look to win his third race of the 2020 Saratoga Race Course summer meet in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer.
The Sword Dancer, a 12-furlong inner turf test for 4-year-olds and upward, offers an automatic berth in the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders' Cup Turf on November 7 at Keeneland Race Course.
Saturday's blockbuster card offers four graded events including the Grade 1, $300,000 Forego presented by America's Best Racing at seven furlongs on the main track for older sprinters; the Grade 2, $150,000 Amsterdam at six furlongs for sophomore sprinters; and the Grade 3, $100,000 Saranac at one mile on the inner turf for 3-year-olds.
Three Diamonds Farm, currently third in the Spa summer meet owner standings with six wins, will be represented by Maker trainees Cross Border and Marzo.
Bred in the Empire State by Berkshire Stud and B. D. Gibbs, Cross Border is a perfect 5-for-5 at Saratoga. The 6-year-old English Channel ridgling notched the natural hat trick last summer at the Spa, winning an open allowance in July ahead of August scores in a restricted allowance tilt and a restricted optional-claiming event.
That run of form propelled Cross Border to the Grade 1 Turf Classic Invitational in October at Belmont Park, where the dark bay earned a career-best 101 Beyer Speed Figure when fifth, defeated 2 ½-lengths to Arklow.
Cross Border earned graded-stakes placed status in January when second by a neck to Spooky Channel in the Grade 3 William L. McKnight at Gulfstream Park and two starts later was defeated just a length to Instilled Regard when fifth in the Grade 1 Manhattan on July 4 at Belmont.
His Saratoga domination continued anew on July 22 when 6 ¼-lengths the best in the 1 1/16-mile Lubash for state-breds, and despite being wheeled back on just ten-days rest, Cross Border crossed the wire second in the Grade 2 Bowling Green and was elevated to first following the disqualification of Sadler's Joy for lugging in and bumping Cross Border, who was forced into the path of Channel Maker.
"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. I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it is about Saratoga, but he likes it up here."
Ramsey said the added distance Saturday should be within reach for Cross Border.
"I think he's probably best a mile and three-eighths. At a mile and a half, if we get the right set up, it shouldn't be a problem," said Ramsey.
Jose Ortiz retains the mount aboard Cross Border from post 6.
Marzo, bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, set the pace in the Bowling Green and stayed on for fifth, defeated 2 ¼-lengths. The 5-year-old Medaglia d'Oro gelding made the grade in the Grade 3 Sycamore in October at Keeneland traveling 12 furlongs. Winless in five starts following the Sycamore score, Marzo did earn blacktype when third in the Grade 3 John B. Connally at Sam Houston in January.
"The horse is doing exceptionally well and he's proven at a mile and a half," said Ramsey.
Ricardo Santana, Jr. will guide Marzo from post 3.
Maker will also saddle Grade 1 winner Aquaphobia, who has posted 8-of-9 career wins on firm turf. The 7-year-old Giant's Causeway gelding, bred in Kentucky by Mr. and Mrs. M. Roy Jackson, broke through at the highest level last out when stalking and pouncing to a one-length win in the 11-furlong Grade 1 United Nations on July 18 at Monmouth Park.
Maker claimed the horse for $62,500 in January at Gulfstream and promptly won the Old Man Eloquent in February traveling 1 1/16-miles on the Gulfstream Park turf. Owned by Paradise Farms Corp., David Staudacher, Hooties Racing and Skychai Racing, Aquaphobia was a good second to recent Grade 1 Fourstardave victor Halladay in the Sunshine Forever in May at the Hallandale Beach oval.
Out of the multiple Grade 1-winning Real Quiet mare Pussycat Doll, Ramsey said the veteran bay exudes class.
"He's been a horse that was on my watchlist for a longtime. We've always liked him," said Ramsey. "We picked him up this winter at Gulfstream and he's really flourished for us. He's really come together. I think the more distance he gets the better he is. He's an all-class horse and I don't think it matters whether it's a mile and a quarter, mile and three eighths or a mile and a half, he seems to be able to handle it all. He's a very professional horse and I expect a big race from him.
"I loved his breeding and I loved his running style," added Ramsey, regarding the productive claim. "He's a very honest, very classy horse. They're kind of hard to come by, a horse that can be as honest as him for as many years. He's always been right there. That's something we always look for."
Irad Ortiz, Jr., leading rider at the Spa with 44 wins heading into Wednesday's card, picks up the mount from post 2.
Al Shahania Stud America's Pedro Cara, a 4-year-old French-bred son of Pedro the Great, enjoyed a productive sophomore season that included wins in the Prix Frederic de Lagrange in July at Vichy and the Group 2 Qatar Derby in December at Doha. In between those winning efforts, Pedro Cara was a game second, defeated just a nose to Spanish Mission, in the Jockey Club Derby Invitational in September at Belmont.
Pedro Cara made his seasonal debut in February at Doha when third in the Group 1 H.H. The Amir Trophy at Doha, a length and a half back of the Graham Motion-trained runner-up Standard Deviation.
The gelding was subsequently transferred to the care of Motion and will make his first start in eight months, having breezed weekly on the all-weather surface at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland for Motion since July 11, including a seven-furlong effort in 1:27.60 on August 24.
"He ran in Qatar when I took Standard Deviation over, so that was my first introduction to him," said Motion. "He didn't get over here until the summer and he had a bit of a foot issue when he got over here, but he hasn't missed a beat since we started breezing him."
Motion said Pedro Cara should be a factor in the wide-open Sword Dancer.
"I think he's a gritty little horse. He's not very big but he's tough," said Motion. "There's not a real standout in this division, so he fits in well with this group of horses."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez will have the call from post 7.
Woodslane Farm's Sadler's Joy will make his fourth appearance in the Sword Dancer for trainer Tom Albertrani. The 7-year-old Kitten's Joy horse won this event in 2017, finished sixth in 2018 and last year rallied bravely to finish second by a neck to Annals of Time.
The Kentucky homebred chestnut shows no signs of slowing down in his fifth season of racing having posted Beyer Speed Figures ranging from 96 through 101 in five starts. The late-running Sadler's Joy finished third, defeated less than a length, in the Grade 1 Manhattan in July at Belmont and crossed the wire first last out in the Bowling Green before being demoted to fourth.
He will emerge from post 8 under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano.
Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber, R.A. Hill Stable and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing's multiple Grade 1-winner Channel Maker will make his third appearance in the Sword Dancer following a runner-up effort in 2018 and a fourth last year.
Trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, the 6-year-old English Channel gelding broke through at the top flight in the 2018 Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in August at the Spa and doubled up in the Grade 1 Man o' War in May 2019 at Belmont Park, which was his last winning effort.
Bred in Ontario by Tall Oaks Farm, Channel Maker boasts a record of 34-5-5-4 with purse earnings of $2,219,051. He arrives at the Sword Dancer from a troubled trip in the Bowling Green when elevated to third and will have the services of Manny Franco from post 4.
Rounding out the field are Highland Sky (post 1, Junior Alvarado) and Corelli (post 5, Joel Rosario).
The Sword Dancer is slated as Race 9 on Saturday's 11-race card, which offers a first post of 1:10 p.m. Eastern. Saratoga Live will present daily television coverage of the 40-day summer meet on FOX Sports and MSG Networks. For the complete Saratoga Live broadcast schedule, and additional programming information, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
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