It’s not quite to the level of Affirmed and Alydar, but the exciting rivalry between a pair of the nation’s top turf routers will renew itself in the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) at Saratoga when English Channel and Better Talk Now clash for the seventh time Aug. 11.
It will be the sixth time in slightly more than a year that the turf heavyweights face one another as they go 1 ½-mile for a berth in the upcoming John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Monmouth Park. In those six career races, English Channel finished ahead of his rival four times, winning twice. The last victory came July 7 at Monmouth in the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT), when the 5-year-old son of Smart Strike won by a length.
But two races back, Better Talk Now got the best of his foe, getting up at the wire to win by a head in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) at Belmont Park June 9. It was the only time the 8-year-old gelding won a race against English Channel but the second time in six tries that he finished ahead of him.
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 Kentucky-bred router has won three Grade I races in a little more than a year. This will be English Channel’s first attempt in the Sword Dancer, having attempted the Arlington Million (gr. IT) last year.
Pletcher said the extra distance is more favorable to his horse than the 1 ¼-mile Million. “A mile and a half around three turns is perfect for English Channel,” he said.
Although getting a bit long in the tooth, Better Talk Now seems to be improving with age, having finished in the money in four of his last five tries – all graded stakes. Consistency has been the name of the game for the son of Talkin Man. In 23 of his 40 races, Better Talk Now has finished in the top three, taking the top prize in 14 of them.
Owned by Brent Johnson and Bushwood Stables and trained by Graham Motion, the Kentucky-bred won the Breeders’ Cup Turf once and missed by a half-length in 2006. He captured the Sword Dancer in 2004.
“Eventually, I think people will realize he is one of the best American turf horses ever,” Motion said. “He’s second to only John Henry in turf earnings. He’s won nearly every big turf race you would want to win. Had he won the Breeders’ Cup (Turf) a second time last year, I think people would give him a lot more respect."
As alike as they are in their consistency, English Channel and Better Talk Now are equally as different in their running styles. Pletcher's horse prefers to press the pace, while Motion's likes to come from the back of the pack. But that's where the differences end.
“They have been two mainstays in some of the country’s biggest turf races for quite some time and they’re nice horses,” said Pletcher, who conditions English Channel for owner James Scatuorchio. “They always show up and run hard. I have a ton of respect for Better Talk Now. It’s a great match up between the two.”
A field of nine is entered in the Sword Dancer. Another expected contender is 4-year-old gelding Trippi’s Storm who, since switching to the grass five races ago, has won three times and finished second twice.
Three European invaders – Always First, Embossed, and Grand Couturier – will also run.