Flintshire: European raider sets the standard on Saratoga undercard
PICTURE: Getty Images
Preview: USA, Saturday
Saratoga: Sword Dancer Invitational (Grade 1) 1m4f, turf, 3yo+ (10.04pm BST, live on ATR)
AFTER missing the King George owing to the ground’s being softer than ideal, the much travelled Flintshire (Andre Fabre/Vincent Cheminaud) should encounter no such difficulties as he returns to North America for the first time since coming second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf.
After that narrow defeat by US champion turf performer Main Sequence, Khalid Abdullah’s five-year-old went on to win the Hong Kong Vase. But although that richly endowed success represents Flintshire’s only victory in two years – he hadn’t won since the 2013 Grand Prix de Paris before that – he is in fact an admirably consistent type.
Indeed, in a career of 16 starts, the son of Dansili has been out of the first three only three times – and each of them when the ground was softer than good. Any of a string of recent placed efforts – behind Dolniya in the Dubai Sheema Classic, or Treve in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud – make him look the one to beat in this $1 million contest, the highlight of the Travers Stakes undercard.
“With the very soft ground, we didn’t run [in the King George],” said Annelie Ackermann, Flintshire’s regular work rider. “So last minute, the boss decided to come here. I didn’t know ten days before we left that I was coming here.”
“He came out of Saint-Cloud very well,” added Ackermann. “It was even kind of unexpected, running against Treve and Dolniya, who had beat him three times already so we were very, very content with him.”
Flintshire is joined by a second European visitor in longshot Guardini (Paul Harley/Martin Harley), a Group 2 winner at Cologne in May for Jean-Pierre Carvalho.
Although Flintshire has been vulnerable to a top-class horse with a superior turn of foot, he really could simply outclass his rivals. They are headed by Man o’War Stakes winner Twilight Eclipse (Tom Albertrani/Joel Rosario), Bowling Green one-two Red Rifle (Todd Pletcher/Jose Ortiz) and War Dancer (Bill Mott/Jose Lezcano) plus Imagining (Shug McGaughey/Irad Ortiz), second to Main Sequence in last year’s race.
Given that he could have ridden a couple of the others, John Velazquez’s booking for recent allowance winner Messi (Graham Motion) could be significant.
Ladbrokes: 4-5 Flintshire, 6 Twilight Eclipse, 7 Red Rifle, 10 Messi, 12 Imagining, War Dancer, 14 Guardini, 33 Fixador
Also on Saturday
Saratoga: Personal Ensign Stakes (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+ f/m (7.35pm BST, live on ATR)
Rivalries are renewed in this $750,000 contest between Stopchargingmaria (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano) and Untapable (Steve Asmussen/John Velazquez), separated by a length in the Shuvee Handicap.
Stopchargingmaria, who has won four of her five Saratoga starts including a pair of Grade 1s, was getting 3lb that day and now races off levels with last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner Untapable, has scored just once in four outings this season after crowning a stellar 2014 with victory in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
Delaware Handicap winner Sheer Drama (David Fawkes/Joe Bravo) and Got Lucky (Todd Pletcher/Irad Ortiz), who comes in off winning her last two starts at Monmouth by a cumulative ten lengths, take their chances.
Saratoga: Ballerina Stakes (Grade 1) 7f, dirt, 3yo+ f/m (8.10pm BST, live on ATR)
La Verdad (Linda Rice/Jose Ortiz) is favourite here after four straight stakes victories this year, including a four-length romp in Grade 2 company at this venue on July 29. But she has never won a Grade 1, was only fifth the last time she stepped up to 7f – in this same contest 12 months ago – and faces a strong rival in Humana Distaff winner Dame Dorothy (Todd Pletcher/Javier Castellano), unbeaten in four 7f starts.
Saratoga: King’s Bishop Stakes (Grade 1) 7f, dirt, 3yo (8.47pm BST, live on ATR)
Holy Boss (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana) looked a class apart when completing a four-timer in the Grade 2 Amsterdam over 61/2f here four weeks ago, when his victims included Woody Stephens Stakes winner March (Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz), a late-running type who will get plenty of speed to aim at here.
Competitive Edge (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) won a Grade 1 here as a two-year-old but has lost his way since a dominant victory on the Kentucky Derby undercard. While he was last of six behind March in the Woody Stephens, he is at least reverting to a suitable distance after failing to stay in the Haskell.
Saratoga: Forego Stakes (Grade 1) 7f, dirt, 3yo+ (9.25pm BST, live on ATR)
A red-hot race headed by Saratoga specialist The Big Beast (Tony Dutrow/John Velazquez), touched off after an absence last time by Rock Fall in the Vanderbilt over 6f. Now he reverts to his optimum trip, over the same course and distance as his Grade 1 score in last year’s King’s Bishop, and the race should set up nicely for him.
He gets a nice 6lb weight break from Private Zone (Jorge Navarro/Martin Pedroza), a six-time Graded-stakes winner making his Saratoga debut at the age of six. A three-time Grade 1 winner in previous seasons, he took the Belmont Sprint Championship at this trip on his most recent outing, since when he could hardly have gone any faster in his work at Saratoga.
Dubai star Tamarkuz (Kiaran McLaughlin/Irad Ortiz) has had a nice break since a decent fourth-placed effort on his US debut in the Met Mile behind a trio of Grade 1 winners. Given that he had a busy time at Meydan, where he gutsily won the Godolphin Mile on his final start, he looms as a potential threat.
Saratoga: Ballston Spa Stakes (Grade 2) 1m1/2f, turf, 3yo+ f/m (11.20pm BST, live on ATR)
Britain has a rare runner at Saratoga as dual Group 3 winner New Providence (Hugo Palmer/Junior Alvarado) bids to emulate Running Stag, who won the Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Handicap for Philip Mitchell in August 1999. He remains the sole British-trained winner at America’s most beloved meeting.
Favourite for this $400,000 contest is Tepin (Mark Casse/Julien Leparoux), who has beaten most of these already during a season in which she is only a nose away from going undefeated in four starts. Drawn on the rail here, she was nailed close home last time over a half-furlong further in the Grade 1 Diana, where My Miss Sophia (Bill Mott/John Velazquez) was fourth.
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