Enticed by an enhanced purse of $1 million and the strong probability of firm ground, one of Europe’s leading middle-distance runners, Flintshire, will headline Saturday’s 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga.
Hindered from starting Flintshire in Europe due to soft conditions prevailing throughout the continent in recent weeks, trainer Andre Fabre has sent the five-year-old to the Spa in search of a confidence-boosting prep for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (G1) in October.
Winner of the Grand Prix de Paris (G1) in 2013 and the Hong Kong Vase (G1) last December, Flintshire, despite his immense talent, carries with him a reputation of settling for minor prizes. In addition to running second to the brilliant mare Treve in both the Arc and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud (G1), the five-year-old was also second to Main Sequence in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita last fall. Flintshire has also placed in the Dubai Sheema Classic (G1), Prix Foy (G2), and twice in the Coronation Cup (G1).
Although a money burner in this respect, from a class perspective it’s hard to look past the Juddmonte homebred in the Sword Dancer. His main adversaries will be the top three finishers from the August 1 Bowling Green H. (G2) — Red Rifle, War Dancer, and Imagining — as well as Man o’ War (G1) scorer Twilight Eclipse, who finished behind Flintshire in the Breeders’ Cup and was most recently third in the United Nations (G1).
Another European import in the Sword Dancer lineup is Guardini, who took the Gerling-Preis (G2) at Cologne, Germany, in May. Subsequently unplaced in a pair of Group 2 events, he will add Lasix and blinkers for his U.S. debut.
Messi, only handicap quality when based in Germany, steps up to graded company after taking two allowances for trainer Graham Motion since his importation. The latter of these, against third-level company, was a two-length score going 11 furlongs over Saratoga’s inner turf.
The field is completed by Brazilian star Fixador, runner-up in the W.L. McKnight H. (G3) in December but last of five in the $98,000 Lure earlier this month when returning from an extended layoff.
Just a Game (G1) and Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2) heroine Tepin, who endured a tough beat in the Diana (G1) by a nose last month, will look to rebound in the $400,000 Ballston Spa (G2) over 1 1/16 miles on the Mellon turf.
The race could set up as a virtual re-run of the Diana with Tepin likely to stalk an early pace set by Kitten’s Queen, who faded late to third, but only by a neck, in that nine-furlong test. Also likely to be close to the lead is My Miss Sophia, who lacked a sufficient stretch kick when a retreating fourth in the Diana.
Coffee Clique scored her first win since the 2013 Just a Game when taking the Dr. James Penny Memorial (G3) at Parx in early July. The five-year-old had dropped three straight to begin the year, twice finishing behind Tepin in the latter’s aforementioned stakes triumphs at Churchill and Belmont.
Foreign flavor in the Ballston Spa will be provided by the three-year-old New Providence, a Group 3 winner at York last month, and the Chad Brown-trained Dacita, a multiple Group 1 winner in Chile in 2014 who has not raced since early December. Brown also saddles Danza Cavallo, his Grade 3-placed filly who wilted as the favorite in the 1 1/2-mile Waya (G3) three weeks ago.
(Flintshire photo courtesy of Hong Kong Jockey Club)