SWORD DANCER INVITATIONAL | PURSE: $500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/2 MILES (INNER TURF)
Favored Main Sequence, slow out of the gate to trail the field, charged home on the outside to nip Imagining at the wire in the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational Aug. 17 on the inner lawn at Saratoga Race Course.
It was the second Grade 1 turf triumph in a row for British invader Main Sequence, who captured the United Nations in his stateside debut at Monmouth Park July 6.
A hustling Rajiv Maragh was once again aboard Main Sequence for trainer Graham Motion and owner Flaxman Holdings, who bred the 5-year-old son of Aldebaran in Kentucky.
Main Sequence won by a head over Man o' War Stakes victor Imagining, who set a solid pace throughout and just failed to last. Twilight Eclipse, who stalked Imagining but could not get past him, finished third in the field of seven older horses. The final time for the 1 ½-mile event on firm turf was a solid 2:24.72.
"[I was] just hoping he gets there," Motion said. "I didn't think he got there, actually. I really didn't think he got there, so when I saw the rerun, I was thought it was unbelievable."
Main Sequence surpassed $1 million in career earnings with the victory. His accomplishments in the U.S. are all the more dramatic due to the fact that he had not raced prior to his transfer to Motion since finishing a distant eighth in the QIPCO Champion Stakes at Ascot last October. Motion noted that Main Sequence was quite ill over the winter, but said the horse blossomed training at Saratoga since the United Nations.
In a light American male turf division, he becomes a serious threat for this fall's Breeders' Cup Turf, for which he already secured a starting berth with his United Nations win.
Main Sequence came away slowly in the Sword Dancer after hip-checking the starting gate and trailed the field early before catching Perfect Timber while some 10 lengths off the pace. He gradually recovered but remained in sixth all the way to the quarter pole as Imagining and Joel Rosario established a strong tempo. Overtaking O'Prado Ole after the opening quarter mile, Imagining stepped the half in :47.15 seconds, six furlongs in 1:12.60, a mile in 1:37.58, and 10 furlongs in 2:01.67.
While maintaining a one-length advantage over Twilight Eclipse and Jose Lezcano, Imagining wasn't finished. Under more pressure from Twilight Eclipse at the quarter pole, he responded by digging in through the homestretch and had his pace rival's measure in deep stretch. But Main Sequence, full of run at midstretch on the far outside with three lengths to make up, burst home under frantic urging by Maragh to collar Imagining in the final two jumps.
"Coming off the turn, he was like, 'Let's go,' so we went," Maragh said. "He was full of run. I know we were catching two good horses, and they weren't going to go down too easily. But he was full of run, and it seemed like we might have just gotten there right on time."
Imagining finished three-quarters of a length in front of Twilight Eclipse, who was followed by War Dancer, Amira's Prince, O'Prado Ole, and Perfect Timber.
Rosario said he hadn't planned to be on the lead during the race with Imagining, but he made no excuses.
"I had a good trip," Rosario said. "I probably thought he was going to be following somebody, but I ended up being on the lead. He tried hard. He just got beat by a horse who is really going good right now."
Main Sequence paid $6.10, $3.50, and $2.50 across the board, topping a chalky $21.60 exacta with 5-2 second choice Imagining, who returned $3.80 and $2.80. Twilight Eclipse paid $2.80 to show.
Trained in Great Britain by David Lanagan, Main Sequence is out of the Pivotal mare Ikat. The chestnut gelding extended his career earnings to $1,288,386 with his second $300,000 payday in the U.S. After failing to win in 10 consecutive races during 2012-13, his career line now stands at 6-3-3 in 16 starts. He last won in England in the Betfred Derby Trial Stakes on the all-weather at Lingfield in April 2012.
Main Sequence is the first foal out of Ikat, who was Group 3-placed in France. She is out of the stakes-winning Burning Sunset and is half sister to Group 2 winner Smoking Gun (by Smart Strike) and stakes winner Zhiyi (by Henrythenavigator).
Motion said Main Sequence's next start likely would come in the $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Sept. 27 at Belmont Park.
"He seems like a happy horse," said Motion, who previously won the Sword Dancer with Better Talk Now in 2004. "I knew he was a really good horse, but you don't expect to win these kinds of races off the bat like this."