Saratoga’s Sword Dancer & Alabama Stakes

Sword Dancer & Alabama Stakes

Princess of Sylmar Winning CCA OaksThis weekend continues the Summer at Saratoga series on NBC with the 39th running of the Grade 1 $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational Stakes and the 133rd running of the $600,000 Grade 1 Alabama Stakes. In the Sword Dancer, hopes are high for favorite Boisterous and trainer Shug McGaughey as the winner of the Man o’ War at Belmont leads the morning line at 5/2. In the Alabama, Princess of Sylmar and trainer Todd Pletcher look to continue the filly’s winning streak as she sets her sights on an Eclipse Award. These two major races will be run back to back as race 9 and 10 on the card for Saratoga on Saturday. Let’s take a look at each of these races and see who we can find the real wagering value in.

2013 Sword Dancer Invitational

BoisterousThe morning line favorite in the Sword Dancer is Boisterous at 5/2. Boisterous looks great for this race coming off of his 2 ¼ length win in the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont. In 25 starts he has had 11 wins, 3 places and 2 shows earning $1,297,910 in his 6 year career. On a 2 win streak, there’s no doubt that Boisterous will be a fierce competitor here in the Sword Dancer. The only concern here is the 1 ½ mile distance. The only time Boisterous has attempted the 1 ½ mile was in the 2011 Sword Dancer where he finished 5th. When asked about Boisterous’ ability to get the distance in the 2013 Sword Dancer, trainer Shug McGaughey had this to say-


“Talking to [Hall of Fame jockey] Johnny [Velazquez] after the Man o’ War, he felt like he was better at the longer distances than shorter distances. He said, ‘I can kind of do more with him.’ He’s gotten now where he relaxes well in his races, so I don’t think a mile and a half will be a problem.”

Twilight Eclipse to Contest Boisterous

Twilight EclipseTwilight Eclipse will be one of Boisterous’ main competitors here, running second to him in the Man o’ War. The four year old gelding has had 10 career starts, with 4 wins, one place and one show. Javier Castellano returns for the ride here under trainer Thomas Albertrani, putting Twilight Eclipse in capable hands. Castellano was onboard when Twilight Eclipse set a world record of 2:22.63 for 1 ½ miles on the turf in the Grade 2 Pan American Handicap on March 23 at Gulfstream Park. He followed that race up with a disappointing 5th place finish in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap and then showed much improvement when take the 2nd place finish in the Man o’ War. Both of those races were on ground that had some give to it, as opposed to the firm footing he enjoyed in the Pan American at Gulfstream. Albertrani had this to say about Saturday’s race-

“It’s a solid group, but if he runs back to his Gulfstream race – and it looks like we’ll be on firmer ground this week – it makes him that much tougher. Gulfstream Park that day was really firm, so that is what he likes. The horse looks great. I like how he’s going into the race. He’s in great, great form.”

Value Plays for the Sword Dancer

Al KhaliI really like Twilight Eclipse for this race, but I have 2 other considerations for you that could come in at better prices. The first is Optimizer. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas and ridden by Junior Alvarado, Optimizer is a fierce competitor who can’t be overlooked. He has the times to contend with the rest of this field and I strongly believe he has a good shot at winning here. My second value play is Al Khali. As one of the oldest in this field at age 7, Al Khali is winless in 18 tries at Grade 1 stakes, but that does not discredit him in my opinion. Besides the fact that he is long overdue for that win, Al Khali has some very competitive times with the rest of this bunch and he ran 2nd in the Sword Dancer last year. I look for him to have a big day in this year’s race and at very good odds.

2013 Alabama Stakes

Princess of SylmarThe big talk in the 133rd running of the $600,000 Grade 1 Alabama Stakes is all about Princess of Sylmar. The 3 year old filly is coming off of 2 huge wins in the Kentucky Oaks and the TVG Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga, both Grade 1 wins. In the Kentucky Oaks she shocked everyone with a ½ length victory over Beholder and Unlimited Budget. Proving that she wasn’t a fluke, she rallied to a 6 length victory in the Coaching Club American Oaks. Right now this filly is hot and is going to be tough to beat! Unfortunately the Todd Pletcher trained horse is sitting at 3/5 morning line odds and the public is going to be all over her and with good reason. Of her 8 starts, she has 6 wins and one place. Her worst race to date was her very first race where she ran 4th. Princess of Sylmar will be tough to beat Saturday, but in the past 10 runnings of the Alabama Stakes, only one favorite has won it, so let’s look at the rest of this small field.

The Fiftyshadesofhay Match Race- Maybe Not

Carnival CourtMany believe that the morning line 2/1 second choice, Fiftyshadesofhay, will basically be in a match race with Princess of Sylmar since there are only 6 horses in this field. Fiftyshadesofhay is looking good for the Alabama, too, coming off of wins in the Iowa Oaks and the big win in the Black Eyed Susan Stakes at Pimlico. The Bob Baffert trained filly will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey, John Velazquez and could give the Princess a run for her money. But I’m looking at a big upset and payoff with Royal Delta‘s half-sister, Carnival Court. I know I’m way out in longshotsville here, but I truly believe that Carnival Court could get there on Saturday. Although she’s lacking in experience, the Kiaran McLaughlin trained filly has times comparable with Princess of Sylmar and could surprise everyone. I don’t think she will be contested for the early lead and could very well run this race wire-to-wire! If you throw in the fact that she’ll be getting first time Lasix, too and Carnival Court might just overthrow the Princess’ kingdom in the 2013 Alabama Stakes. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had this to say about Carnival Court’s bid in the Alabama Stakes-

“Short field, mile-and-a-quarter, she wants the distance. She has to step up, but it looks like the one to beat is [Princess of Sylmar] coming from off the pace, so maybe we can make the pace and get a piece of it.”

Look for Carnival Court on the lead and if everything goes well, she’ll never look back. McLaughlin won last year’s Alabama with Questing and Carnival Court’s half-sister, Royal Delta won it the year before that. Longshot or not, you do the math! Good luck to all!



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Mike Jr, eldest son of Mike Lane Sr, is co-lead author at and was raised on thoroughbred horse racing and handicapping. Although father and son often butt heads on their selections, they both have much love and admiration for the sport. Mike Jr. brings a new, fresh perspective to horse racing and is often in search of new angles to try.

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