The race will be televised, along with the $600,000 Alabama (gr. I) for 3-year-old fillies, on the NBC Sports Network from 5-6 p.m. EDT.
With his daunting speed and ability to relax while setting the pace, the 4-year-old ridgling has developed this year into one of the most imposing turf horses in the country for owners P and G Stable and Off the Hook. Unchallenged on the lead in his two most recent starts, he cruised in the $500,000 Colonial Turf Cup and then the $505,000 United Nations Stakes (gr. IT).
The son of Halo's Image, co-highweight in the race with Man o' War Stakes (gr. IT) winner Point of Entry , has never been asked to run the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Sword Dancer. Trainer Todd Pletcher expressed confidence that Turbo Compressor, the 2-1 favorite on the morning line, is up to the task. A victory would push him past the $1 million mark in earnings.
"It simply depends on pace scenario, but he continues to handle the increase in distances we've been offering, and he appreciates being on the lead," said Pletcher, currently the leading trainer at the Saratoga meet. "Against Turbo Compressor, some people are reluctant to take their horse out of their natural running style. It's a balancing act, jeopardizing your own horse to ensure faster fractions. It's not only his ability to show speed, but he relaxes once he's there."
That ability—and the ability to take the starch out of any other speed horse to challenge him—allowed Turbo Compressor to ease through the opening half-miles of his most recent two victories in just under 50 seconds. Under those easy conditions, the closers stood little chance.
One trainer willing take the challenge of pressing Turbo Compressor early is Tom Albertrani, whose millionaire runner Brilliant Speed has been laying off the pace in his recent starts. Winner of the Saranac (gr. IIIT) last summer at Saratoga and third last November in the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) for Live Oak Plantation, Brilliant Speed has done his best when close up. Albertrani doesn't want to see him six lengths back as he was when he finished sixth in the United Nations under Joel Rosario.
"He likes the course and, hopefully, he's one of those horses that's 'horses for courses,'" Albertrani said. "The horse places himself. For some reason, the jockey last time tried to take him back, and he was fighting him the whole way. Let the horse run his own race. Brilliant Speed works faster than that; why take back and make the race into a workout? He should have been up there with Turbo Compressor that day."
Javier Castellano picks up the mount on Brilliant Speed, 6-1 on the morning line, for the Sword Dancer.
Point of Entry, a 4-year-old Dynaformer colt for Phipps Stable, enters the Sword Dancer off three straight victories, including the Elkhorn (gr. IIT) at Keeneland and the Man o' War at Belmont Park in his most recent starts. Trained by Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, Point of Entry is 2-for-2 in turf races at 1 1/2 miles. He is 5-2 on the morning line with Hall of Famer John Velazquez aboard.
Owned by Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable, 6-year-old Al Khali has competed at the grade I level in nine of his past 10 starts. In the 2011 Sword Dancer, the 6-year-old ridgling son of Medaglia d'Oro overcame a tough, inside trip before charging through the lane, only to encounter trouble as Winchester swept to victory. He finished third, as he did in the 2010 edition.
Al Khali, who will be ridden by Junior Alvarado at 8-1 on the morning line, comes into the Sword Dancer this year off a third-place finish in the United Nations, another race in which he found trouble.
"On the days when he's run the biggest, sometimes he's had some traffic issues, but that happens," Mott said. "We're not pointing fingers."
James Karp's Newsdad, 12-1 on the morning line, was fourth in the Man o' War. Two races back, he won the Pan American (gr. IIT) at 1 1/2 miles at Gulfstream Park.
"He's had a little vacation," Mott said of the 4-year-old son of Arch. "We're looking for him to run a little better race this time. He had a good winter, he ran a bunch of times. He's had a race back in him and hopefully he's a little more primed than he was last time."
Also in the field are Amerman Racing's Center Divider, second last out to Point of Entry in the Man o' War and 5-1 on the morning line; Alastar Thoroughbred Racing's Tahoe Lake (15-1), third in the Man o' War and second last time out in the John's Call at 1 5/8 miles; Hailstone (20-1), third in the John's Call for Marc Keller; and Dorothy Gentner's Game Ball, 30-1.
$600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:13 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP., Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Al Khali (KY), J. Alvarado, 116, W L Mott
2. Point of Entry (KY), J.R. Velazquez, 123, C R McGaughey III
3. Tahoe Lake (BRZ), E. Castro, 116, K G McPeek
4. Newsdad (KY), J. Rosario, 118, W L Mott
5. Game Ball (KY), J.L. Espinoza, 116, N Chatterpaul
6. Center Divider (KY), R. Napravnik, 116, C C Brown
7. Hailstone (KY), J. Rocco, Jr., R Ribaudo
8. Brilliant Speed (FL), J. Castellano, 116, T Albertrani
9. Turbo Compressor (FL), J. Bravo, 123, T A Pletcher