Just a week to go for the delayed, detoured Kentucky Derby. Man, it's been a winding road. After the Derby, it's the Preakness to complete the crooked, as in not straight versus corrupt, Triple Crown. And then the Breeders' Cup isn't too far off into the horizon with qualifying for the two-day horse racing extravaganza currently in full swing.
A pair of Breeders' Cup Challenge series races are on the cards this weekend. The Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga and the Pat O'Brien Stakes at Del Mar. The winner of the Sword Dancer in race nine at Saratoga get an automatic bid into the Breeders' Cup Longines Turf and the Pat O'Brien champ get to run in the Breeders' Cup Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile. – My favorite name for any stakes race.
The Sword Dancer is a sort of like a mini NASCAR race, three left-turns for 1 1/2 miles over the inner turf course. Off the pace runners have had the edge over the past decade with eight of the last 10 to wear the Dancer crown coming from mid-pack and back.
Morning line favorite, SADLER'S JOY (PP: 8 ML 5/2) finished second by in last year's version, gobbling up a lot of ground late but just missing at the wire. This will be his fourth go for the title in the last four years, finishing sixth two-years ago and taking the tape first in 2017.
We expect he'll be a factor again this year with his greatest challenge coming from CROSS BORDER (PP: 6 ML 3-1). The pair matched up in their last race on August 1st with JOY earning the W by a neck. Both were charging hard at the end, but the Woodslane Farm's SADLER'S JOY had the advantage in the stretch and fought hard to hold it at the wire. However, he was DQd for interference and moved to fourth.
That race was a 1 3/8 miles. Today is 1/8 mile longer, advantage CROSS BORDER in our view. That extra furlong could be enough for Trainer Michael Maker's BORDER to turn a neck into a trophy! We think he will make use of the longer journey and stamp his November ticket to Keeneland for this year's Breeders' Cup.
PEDRO CARA (PP: 7 ML 10-1) could be the spoiler for the two favorites and at a decent price. He's flying in from Dubai, where he finished third in the Grade I, $1 million H.H The Amir Trophy. Prior to that, he won the $500k Qatar Derby; so, he's no stranger to high stakes racing. The four-year-old, trained by Graham Motion raced in the States once, losing by a nose in the $1 million Jockey Club Derby Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park, producing a triple-digit speed figure.
Horseplayers might overlook him because of a lack of information via past performances and racing form data. His recent run of big-money races says not to make that mistake.
CHANNEL MAKER (PP: 4 ML 6-1) is the last of our top four choices for the Sword Dancer. He finished fourth behind SADLER'S JOY, CROSS BORDER and HIGHLAND SKY (PP: 1 ML 12-1) in the Grade II, Bowling Green Stakes on August 1. He was bumped to third ahead of the disqualified SADLER'S JOY. It was the six-time the two marched up in the last 10 starts with CHANNEL MAKER getting the best of it just once, DQ notwithstanding.
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