With only four American-trained horses entered in the Arlington Million Aug. 16 and a seven-horse field set for the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes at Saratoga Race Course the following day, one has to wonder where all the leading turf horses are.
The Sword Dancer did draw a competitive, classy field, with all seven boasting enough credentials to win the 1 ½-mile inner course race without causing much of a shock. But consistency is another matter, and it's rare this year to see a big-name turf horse put two victories together.
While the Phipps Stable's Imagining and Flaxman Holdings' 2012 Epsom Derby runner-up Main Sequence have scored big wins in Grade 1 stakes this year, taking the Man o' War Stakes and United Nations Stakes, respectively, it looks as if West Point Thoroughbreds' Twilight Eclipse is rounding into peak form at the right time.
SWORD DANCER INVITATIONAL DRAW
The 5-year-old son of Purim has run his best races at 1 ½ miles, including a world-record breaking performance in last year's Pan American Stakes at Gulfstream Park. This year, the Tom Albertrani-trained gelding started off with a bang, winning the 1 ⅜-mile MacDiarmida Stakes at Gulfstream before journeying halfway around the world to Dubai and suffering the same fate as previous American horses who have attempted to handle the turf course, first at Nad Al Sheba and then Meydan.
Following his 12th-place finish in the Dubai Sheema Classic, Twilight Eclipse returned to the races a little over two months later, finishing a solid fourth in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup. He then dropped back to a more suitable distance in the 1 ⅜-mile United Nations, and after pressing the early pace, dropping back to third, and then coming on again, he was edged by a neck on the wire by Main Sequence, shipping over from England.
There is not a lot of early speed in the Sword Dancer, so jockey Jose Lezcano can dictate strategy by either going to the lead or sitting off whoever wishes to set the pace. Twilight Eclipse is effective either way and should get a good clear trip breaking from the outside post in the compact field.
It is also worth noting that Twilight Eclipse did finished second, beaten only one length by Big Blue Kitten, in last year's Sword Dancer, and that was in a 12-horse field, where he raced three- and four-wide most of the way.
Of course, Imagining and Main Sequence, who was turned over to Graham Motion after the United Nations, are going to be tough again. Imagining did win the Man o' War wire-to-wire, but that is not his best style of running, and he set the pace because no one else seemed to want it and he was able to get away with a slow three-quarters in 1:13 ⅗.
In the subsequent Knob Creek Manhattan Handicap at Belmont, he had to go six-wide and showed little in the stretch, finishing sixth, beaten 4 ¾ lengths by Real Solution.
Rounding out the field in the Sword Dancer are the Kenny McPeek-trained War Dancer, winner of the 1 ½-mile Louisville Handicap before finishing a close third in the Arlington Handicap; the multiple graded stakes winner Amira's Prince, who is trying to rebound off a sixth-place finish in the Man o'War; Perfect Timber, second by a nose in the recent Singspiel Stakes at Woodbine; and O'Prado Ole, second, beaten a half-length, in the Stars and Stripes Stakes At Arlington International Racecourse in his last start.