With Better Talk Now unlikely to defend his $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap (gr. IT) title Saturday at Saratoga, the race now gives an opportunity for eight others horses on the East Coast to emerge among the top turf runners in the country.
The Sword Dancer will be televised nationally on ABC from 4-6 p.m.
Although trainer Graham Motion has Better Talk Now entered in the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer on the turf, it is likely the 6-year-old gelding will be declared from the race to run in the Arlington Million (gr. IT). It rained in Chicago on Thursday with thunderstorms and showers expected to continue through the weekend. Better Talk Now prefers soft going.
Moyglare Stud's Relaxed Gesture will be the likely favorite for the Sword Dancer following two, tight second-place finishes in both the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) and Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park.
Since trainer Christophe Clement received Relaxed Gesture, he has watched the colt win both allowance races while stretching out from nine furlongs to a mile and a quarter. Relaxed Gesture has also finished no worse than third in eight starts on the turf.
"He's a very nice horse and easy to train," Clement said. "So far, he has handled any turf condition at various distances. Everything seems to be going in the right direction. If there's a concern, that would be the distance of the Sword Dancer. He has never run that far.
"He's a very athletic horse and we've been training him to go further. Hopefully, everything will work in his favor for the Sword Dancer."
Relaxed Gesture will get a new rider. Jose Santos, who has been working the colt here, replaces Brice Blanc.
Hall of Fame trainer Robert Frankel has entered two for the Sword Dancer: likely pacesetter King's Drama and late-running Vangelis. Owned by Gary Tanaka, King's Drama has a couple of advantages over his opposition: being the lone speed in the race and having a win over the Saratoga turf course.
On the last week of the Saratoga meet last year, the 5-year-old led from start to finish in a classified allowance race. King's Drama then ran third in the Man o' War (gr. IT) at Belmont Park.
King's Drama came off an eight-month layoff from ankle and knee surgery to win another front-running classified allowance--a six-length victory at 10 furlongs.
"He came back from the operation really good and I think he'll run well again here," Frankel said. "I really like his chances more with him being the only speed in the field."
If King's Drama falters, Vangelis could be there to pick up horses in the stretch. Since coming to the United States, the 6-year-old has yet to win a race. Vangelis, however, has finished either second or third in his last four starts, including his most recent race in the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT), where he was third to Cool Conductor.
"He has been an unlucky horse," Frankel said. "In the Arlington Handicap, he got caught behind some slow horses. He did make a run, but it was against a horse who got away with a slow pace."
At this time last year, Vangelis rallied to finish fifth to Powerscourt, Kicken Kris, and Magistretti in the Arlington Million. Since then, he has finished third to Star Over the Bay in the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr. IT) at Santa Anita and third to Sweet Return in the Charles Whittingham Handicap (gr. IT).
Another horse trying to redeem himself in the turf standings is Horizon's Stable's Meteor Storm, who is coming off a seventh-place finish in the Manhattan Handicap for trainer Wallace Dollase.
"He lost both of his front shoes in the Manhattan," Dollase said. "He's coming into the race fresh and in great shape. He has been training very well at Saratoga. His recent works have proven that."
Meteor Storm has not won a race since taking the Manhattan in 2004. However, he is just one of two horses in the field who has been successful at the Sword Dancer distance. The other horse is Dreadnaught, who won the W.L. McKnight Handicap (gr. IIT) and the Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIT) at the end of last year.
Last year, Meteor Storm won the San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) at a mile and a half, and then followed with a victory in the lengthier San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT).
"He's a push-button horse--he does everything the rider wants him to do," Dollase said. "He's got tactical speed, but I don't want to force him that close to the pace. The distance won't be a concern. This will be his first time on the course. That may be a concern more than anything else."
Also making his return to Saratoga is Sam Knighton's Request for Parole, who finished second to Better Talk Now in last year's Sword Dancer. The 2004 United Nations Handicap (gr. IT) winner is coming into the race the same way he did last year.
Following his fourth-place finish in an allowance race, Request for Parole spotted the field as much as 19 lengths in the early stages of the United Nations before rallying to finish third.
"He needed his first race," said trainer Stanley Hough. "He's really coming back into his own and will be very competitive. I think he's going to be the horse he has always been."
Completing the Sword Dancer field are longshot Rochester and two-time Louisville Handicap (gr. IIIT) winner Silverfoot.
Sword Dancer Invitational Race 8 4:57
Post Horse Trainer Jockey Weight
1 Meteor Storm Wallace Dollase Javier Castellano 120
2 Vangelis Robert Frankel Ramon Dominguez 118
3 Rochester Jonathan Sheppard Richard Migliore 116
4 Relaxed Gesture Christophe Clement Jose Santos 116
5 Silverfoot Dallas Stewart Robby Albarado 116
6 Request for Parole Stanley Hough Eibar Coa 120
7 King's Drama Robert Frankel Jorge Chavez 116
8 Better Talk Now H. Graham Motion Chantal Sutherland 123
9 Dreadnaught Thomas Voss Jean-Luc Samyn 120