The old saying that “pace makes the race” was proven true once again in Saturday’s $1,000,000 Sword Dancer Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga.
The 1 ½-mile “Win and You’re In” prep race for the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) attracted ten starters, but thanks to a pedestrian early pace over a very firm turf course, it may as well have been a match race between the pacesetters Glorious Empire and Channel Maker, who were never challenged at any point while dominating the race from start to finish.
Plenty of credit should be given to jockey Julien Leparoux, who executed a masterful ride aboard the former claimer Glorious Empire. Leparoux sent the Irish-bred son of Holy Roman Emperor straight to the lead through a respectable opening quarter-mile in :23.16 seconds, then backed down the pace severely through increasingly slow quarter-mile fractions of :25.02 and :25.70.
Surprisingly, none of Glorious Empire’s rivals were remotely interested in challenging for the lead through such a slow pace. The only one within striking distance was Channel Maker, but jockey Joel Rosario was content to let Channel Maker sit a length off the lead even though Channel Maker was tugging at the bit, eager to go on and push the pace.
Meanwhile, Glorious Empire continued to parade along on the lead through a fourth quarter-mile in :24.94, at which point Leparoux let him out a notch. From there, Glorious Empire gladly did the rest, accelerating dramatically through a fifth quarter-mile in :23.04 and a final quarter-mile in :22.55 to sprint his pursuers off their feet and win clearly in the end by 1 ¾ lengths, stopping the timer in a solid 2:24.41 seconds.
Channel Maker tried gamely to stay on even terms, but the :45.59 final half-mile was much too quick to close into, and he had to settle for second place. But by the same token, none of the late runners could get within two lengths of Channel Maker, with the Woodford Reserve Manhattan Stakes (gr. I) Spring Quality faring best while rallying mildly to finish third. Sadler’s Joy, the race favorite, had no chance after dropping back to last place early on and wound up finishing sixth in a field of ten.
Trained by James Lawrence, II, Glorious Empire had previously finished in a dead-heat for victory with Channel Maker in the Bowling Green Stakes (gr. II) at Saratoga. A seven-year-old veteran with 23 starts under his belt, Glorious Song has improved with leaps and bounds while winning three of his four starts this year and now looms as one of the top U.S, hopefuls for the Breeders’ Cup Turf in November at Churchill Downs, where his speed could be a major asset.