SWORD DANCER INVITATIONAL STAKES | PURSE: $500,000 | GRADE: 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS AND UP | 1 1/2 MILES
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Twenty-four years after winning the Sword Dancer Invitational at Belmont Park with Theatrical, owners Bertram and Diana Firestone were in the Saratoga winner's circle after Winchester, a son of Theatrical, won Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational.
Ironically, Theatrical won it when the horse who beat him, Dance of Life, was disqualified from first by the stewards. Saturday, Winchester had to withstand a claim of foul by the rider of the third-place finisher, Al Khali, to maintain the victory.
For the 6-year-old Winchester, it was his sixth victory from 23 career starts and his fourth Grade 1 triumph. At 3, Winchester won the Secretariat at Arlington Park. Last year, he took the Manhattan and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, both at Belmont Park.
Winchester was making just his second start of the year. His return was delayed by a splint bone injury, which he developed both in the winter and again in the spring.
Christophe Clement, the trainer of Winchester, had expressed some concern about Saratoga's tighter-turned inner turf course. But Winchester had no trouble handling it as he unleashed a powerful last to first kick in the final half-mile despite having to go five wide at the quarter pole.
"He won because he's so much the best," Clement said. "He's even better than this. The turf course was a bit against him, he had to come really wide, it's a short stretch, but he's good enough to do. It was great."
Winchester finished three-quarters of a length in front of the pacesetting Rahy's Attorney, who was vanned off after coming up lame in his left foreleg. Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said there was nothing "outwardly wrong" with Rahy's Attorney.
Rahy's Attorney finished three-quarters of a length in front of Al Khali, whose rider, Alan Garcia, claimed foul against Winchester for alleged interference in the stretch. The stewards ruled that while Winchester did shift in, causing Al Khali to check, in their judgment it did not alter the outcome of the race.
Firestone, who turns 80 on Thursday, flew to Saratoga from Virginia along with his wife. The Firestones bred both Theatrical, who is 29 and is still at a farm in Kentucky, as well as Winchester.
"He's a good horse, I know he's a good horse," Bertram Firestone said of Winchester. "He did what we thought he was going to do."
Winchester, under Cornelio Velasquez, was last for the opening mile, but only five lengths back at the half-mile pole. He moved into contention around the far turn, swung five wide turning into the stretch and over took from a stubborn Rahy's Attorney inside the sixteenth pole to get the victory.
Winchester covered the 1 1/2 miles in 2:26.74 and returned $7.20 as the second choice.
"I had confidence, I had a lot of horse," Velasquez said. "I asked him at the quarter pole and he ran fast. I know Alan claimed foul, but he was not going to beat my horse. I'm happy he ran a big one."
Following Al Khali, the order of finish was Teaks North, 2-1 favorite Boisterous, Bim Bam, and Drosselmeyer, the 2010 Belmont Stakes winner.
Clement said that Winchester would be pointed to either the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont on Oct. 1 or the $1.5 million Canadian International at Woodbine on Oct. 16.