Michael and Lynn Shanley's Whitmore's Conn and jockey Jean-Luc Samyn made a late surge in the stretch to register a major upset in the $500,000 Sword Dancer (gr. IT) before 31,153 at Saratoga Saturday.
The 24-1 shot, a 5-year-old New York bred horse by Kris S., gave trainer Randy Schulhofer his first grade I victory and the 46-year-old Samyn his third Sword Dancer triumph.
Racing last in the 11-horse field, Samyn guided Whitmore's Conn to the outside on the turn for home and charged four wide down the stretch to tally by 1 1/4-length over Macaw, who also closed well in the stretch. Slew Valley was a close third. The final time for the 12-furlong test was 2:28.
Coming off a half-length victory over Quest Star (who scratched Saturday) and Macaw in the Bowling Green (gr. IIT) at Belmont July 12, Whitmore's Conn won his first grade I as well. It was his initial win in five starts at 1 1/2 mile, and his first in three starts at Saratoga.
The victory avenged a 3 ½-length loss to Denon in last year's Sword Dancer, when Whitmore's Conn finished sixth.
"Last year, we had a little bit of trouble at the start of the race," Schulhofer said. "We didn't have as clean a trip as we had today, and we didn't have Jean-Luc (Samyn, jockey). Today it was a matter of trip and things setting up right. Everything worked out for us today. Going into the far turn, I was a little bit worried because he was dead last. At the five-sixteenths pole, he really took off, and that's when I got excited. He went wide, and it looked like he was losing a little ground, but he really finished strong. He ran away with it. Every year, he has gotten better. It looks like he stepped it up a notch this year.
"We might run him back in the ($750,000) Turf Classic (gr. IT Sept. 27 at Belmont) . Hopefully, he keeps his form."
United Nations (gr. IT) winner Balto Star, closely tracked by Kim Loves Bucky, set the pace into the stretch before fading to last. Ridden by Jose Velez, the Todd Pletcher-trained Balto Star set fractions of :24 2/5, :49, 1:13 and 1:37 4/5 before buckling in the stretch. Denon, the 2-1 favorite ridden by Jerry Bailey for trainer Bobby Frankel, grabbed the lead in the stretch, but could not hold off the late runners, finishing fourth.
Samyn previously won the Sword Dancer with Dr. Root (1991) and John's Call (2000).
"He was very comfortable," Samyn said. "I had only ridden him once, and that was in the Bowling Green and I learned a lot about him that day. I knew this race wouldn't be easy; that's why he was 25-1. But he showed me great promise last time. He seems like he really enjoys running like this (off the pace). I was picking up my places and turning for home and turning for home I felt good. At the eighth-pole, I knew I had it."
Whitmore's Conn earned $300,000 for the Shanley's, of Albany, while winning for the seventh time in 27 starts. He boasts a career bankroll of $740,426. Bud Wolfe and Joe D'Agostino bred the winner, who is out of the Deputed Testamony mare Albonita.
Whitmore's Conn lit the board for a $51.50, $22.60 and $13.80 payoff. The Irish-bred Macaw, ridden by Shaun Bridgmohan for trainer Barclay Tagg, returned $14 and $8.10. Slew Valley, 59-1 with Jose Castellano in the irons, showed for $16.80. The $2 exacta returned $511, the trifecta was worth $13,969 and the superfecta paid $40,598.
"Shaun (Bridgmohan) gave him the ride that I wanted," said Tagg of Macaw, now winless in nine U.S. starts since transferring here from Great Britain a year ago. "Since the horse had a lousy post (No. 11), I told Shaun to get him inside, save ground and keep him close. The horse can drop back 20 lengths and make a run on his own, but he can't do that against these horses. The horse made his run, he just ran out of distance in the end. I would like to keep him in these races. I know he hasn't won a race since coming from Europe, but he still keeps improving."
While a great race, it was a bit disappointing that With Anticipation, the 8-year-old who was to have tried for his third straight Sword Dancer victory, was scratched. A muscle-tear in his left foreleg forced Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard to scratch him.
"It would have been wonderful to win (the Sword Dancer) three times in a row," Sheppard said. "And it's very disappointing. But not just for selfish reasons. I feel very badly for (jockey) Pat Day who was offered to ride in the West Virginia Derby, and on other mounts in the Sword Dancer. He showed a lot of loyalty to take the mount, and now he's sitting in the jockeys' room. He's won five grade Is on this horse, and he knew there was a chance this horse would scratch, but he showed loyalty you don't always see these days."