With the news that Better Talk Now has been scratched from the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT), it is expected that English Channel will be the heavy favorite Aug. 11.
Before the defection of Better Talk Now, English Channel was the 8-5 favorite for the 1 1/2-mile trek around Saratoga’s turf. Now that the 3-1 second choice is gone, bettors could make the son of Smart Strike an overwhelming favorite.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, English Channel has been a model of consistency during his 20-start career, winning 11 times while taking money in all but five of those efforts. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred has won three Grade I races in a little more than a year and has a much higher average Beyer Speed Figure than any other current challenger. This will be English Channel’s first attempt in the Sword Dancer, having attempted the Arlington Million (gr. IT) last year.
Pletcher said the distance of the Sword is more favorable to his horse than the 1 1/4-mile Million. “A mile-and-a-half around three turns is perfect for English Channel,” he said.
The Sword is now down to a field of eight, with three of the entries from Europe: Always First and Grand Couturier, from Great Britain, and the Irish-bred Embossed. Of them, Embossed is the most accomplished, having won the Dallas Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) at Lone Star Park in May. The 5-year-old ridgling has two graded stakes wins in eight tries and was an 8-1 morning-line choice.
Perhaps benefiting most from Better Talk Now’s absence is Trippi’s Storm, who, since switching to the grass five races ago, has won three times and finished second twice. The 4-year-old gelding by Trippi, out of Pocket Beauty, ran second to Sunriver in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont July 15 and seems to be improving with every turf experience. His 4-1 morning-line odds should see a dip.
The speed of the race could belong to Fri Guy, who most recently ran fourth in the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park, when the 4-year-old colt led most of the way before fading in the stretch. Trained by Dale Romans, Fri Guy has never won a stakes.
English Channel, who likes to press the pace, could benefit from Fri Guy’s early speed.
Rounding out the field are Ramazutti and Crown Point.