By Jon Forbes
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Patiently handled by jockey Cornelio Velasquez, Winchester shot past Rahy’s Attorney, the resilient pacesetter, in the final sixteenth of a mile to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Winchester bided his time in the early stages of the 1 ½-mile turf event, racing well off the pace as he trailed the field of seven. After inching into contention along the backstretch, he was given his cue by Velasquez on the far turn and came widest of all into the stretch, eventually edging past Rahy’s Attorney to prevail by three-quarters of a length.
“My horse had a very good trip,” said Velasquez. “He was ready for this race. He always runs a big race, and today he ran another one. I rode with confidence, but I had a lot of horse.”
Winchester was timed in 2:26.74 and returned $7.20 for a $2 win wager as the 5-2 second choice.
The Saturday Pick 6, anchored by Ess Shape’s 66-1 upset in the 11th and final race, proved elusive, creating a $76,567 carryover into Sunday’s card. Sunday’s Pick 6 will begin with race 5, which has a scheduled post time of 3:13 p.m.
The Sword Dancer was Winchester’s first start in New York since his victory in the 2010 Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont Park in October. He had made three starts in the interim, finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in November, 11th in the Group 1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin in December, and second in his lone previous start of 2011, the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes on July 23, which had been taken off the turf and transferred to Arlington Park’s artificial main track.
“I knew that [the Stars and Stripes] would set him up perfectly for this race,” said winning trainer Christophe Clement. “He was unlucky: the race was switched from the turf to the Polytrack. He ran well anyway, and the race set him up, as you can see, perfectly for today.”
Winchester has now won four Grade 1 races, having also taken the 2008 Secretariat at Arlington and the 2010 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap at Belmont. Overall, he is 6-6-2 from 23 starts, with the $300,000 winner’s share of the Sword Dancer purse lifting his earnings to $1,557,498.
A 6-year-old, Winchester is owned by Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone, who bred the son of Theatrical in Virginia. Theatrical, also campaigned by the Firestones, won the Sword Dancer in 1987.
Rahy’s Attorney was vanned off after pulling up lame, but Dr. Larry Bramlage, the veterinarian on call, said there was “nothing outwardly wrong” with the 7-year-old gelding.
“It was the left front [leg], but there’s nothing outwardly apparent,” added Bramlage.
Alan Garcia, rider of third-place finisher Al Khali, lodged a claim of foul against the winner, but the objection was denied by the stewards, who, in their judgment, ruled the incident did not affect the order of finish.
Teaks North was fourth, and he was followed home by favored Boisterous, Bim Bam, and Drosselmeyer. Grassy was scratched.