English Channel Now Heavy Favorite in Sword Dancer

The defection of Better Talk Now means that English Channel is the class of the field in the Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT).


So much for the showdown between a pair of highly-regarded turf stars.


Better Talk Now trainer Graham Motion announced Aug. 10 that the 8-year-old gelding was being scratched from the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) at Saratoga this weekend due to a left front ankle injury from a race last month. The minor injury, which occurred in the United Nations Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont June 9, seemed to be under control until Aug. 10, when it began to fill with fluid.

Motion said the veteran turf router, who has won 14 of 40 career races, including the 2004 Sword Dancer, would walk for two weeks and if the injury healed, could be pointed toward the $500,000 Man o’ War Stakes (gr. IT) at Belmont Sept. 8.

"It looks quite angry this morning; he's very tender on it," said Motion. "This is a temporary thing, but the timing is terrible.  I don’t want the same scenario a month from now, so we’re going to give him the time and treat it.  I want him to heal so he’s fine the rest of the year.  I’m disappointed for the owners and the horse, but more disappointed for the fans of Saratoga.  It was such a big day and it would have been a great race."

The injury means Better Talk Now will not face rival English Channel Aug. 11 in what would have been the seventh meeting between two of the best turf routers in the country. English Channel, trained by Todd Pletcher, had finished ahead of Better Talk Now in four of their six races. The son of Smart Strike is now likely to be the overwhelming favorite in the Sword Dancer.
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 5-year-old an ever heavier favorite.

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 Kentucky-bred has won three Grade I races in a little more than a year.  In his last several races, his Beyer Speed Figure has been well over 100, much higher 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.