SARATOGA SPRINGS – Bolshoi Ballet, who won his North American debut in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby more than two years ago, put away favored fellow Irish-bred Stone Age leaving the far turn and powered through the stretch to a decisive 4 1/2-length triumph in Saturday’s Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer at Saratoga Race Course.
The 49th running of the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer for 4-year-olds and up on the inner turf course was the fourth of five Grade 1 stakes worth $3.5 million in purses on a spectacular 13-race program, immediately preceding the 154th renewal of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers.
Campaigned by Westerberg, Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith and ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez for trainer Aidan O’Brien, Bolshoi Ballet completed the distance in 2:29.29 over a course rated good. Velazquez previously won the Sword Dancer with Cetewayo in 1998 and Point of Entry in 2012.
“Aidan was happy with him,” said O’Brien’s traveling assistant, T.J. Comerford. “He was training well at home. He’s been taking on horses at a high level at home, so it just worked out that he was starting to come around all year.”
Multimillionaire Channel Maker, racing in the Sword Dancer for a sixth consecutive year, tugged jockey Manny Franco to the lead from the gate and they rounded the far turn for the first time in front after going a quarter-mile in 23.65 pressed by Stone Age to his outside while Velazquez was unhurried aboard Bolshoi Ballet in third along the rail, followed by Pioneering Spirit and Soldier Rising.
The running order remained unchanged through a half-mile in 49.58 seconds and six furlongs in 1:15.93, when Velazquez tipped Bolshoi Ballet off the rail into the three-path to launch his bid when the field hit the far turn for the second time. Stone Age had wrested the lead from a tiring Channel Maker approaching the stretch and straightened for home in front, looking to give trainer Chad Brown his fourth Sword Dancer triumph.
Instead, it was Velazquez who set Bolshoi Ballet down for a drive and the 5-year-old son of Galileo responded in kind, opening up with ease and sprinting clear of his rivals to win for the first time since July 2021. His last North American start came when he ran sixth in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf that fall.
“We had a great trip. Great trip. The trainer told me to come out of the gate running, get him as close as you can, but give him a little break for the first half of the race. After there, the last half of the race, make sure I keep him busy. That’s the way it worked out,” Velazquez said. “Aidan told me, ‘He’s going to be lazy, so you are going to have to ride him, he doesn’t give you anything, so make sure you keep him busy.’ [In the stretch] he was gone.”
Soldier Rising finished strongly after trailing the field in the early stages to be a clear second, 5 1/2 lengths ahead of Pioneering Spirit, who came into the Sword Dancer on a four-race win streak. It was a length back to Daunt in fourth, followed by Stone Age and Channel Maker. Verstappen was scratched.
“Everybody anticipated an easy pace early on, but I was in contact with the field every step of the way,” Soldier Rising’s jockey Jose Ortiz said. “We are very pleased, very happy with the way he ran today. He put [in] a great effort and the winner was just much the best.”
In addition to the winner’s purse of $412,500, which pushed him well over the $1 million mark in lifetime earnings, Bolshoi Ballet earned an all-fees-paid berth to the Grade 1, $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf November 4 at Santa Anita. Previous horses to capture the Sword Dancer and Turf in the same year are Theatrical (1987), Fraise (1992), Better Talk Now (2004) and Main Sequence (2014).
Bolshoi Ballet won back-to-back Group 3 stakes in Ireland as a 3-year-old in the spring of 2021 prior to coming to the U.S., where he raced three times following his Belmont Derby win including a fourth in the Grade 1 Saratoga Derby Invitational. He made only one start in 2022 before launching his comeback in April, coming into the Sword Dancer off a sixth-place finish at odds of 125-1 in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes July 29 at Royal Ascot.
Bred in Ireland by Lynch-Bages and Rhinestone Bloodstock, Bolshoi Ballet is out of the Anabaa mare Alta Anna. He is a full brother to Southern France, who was a dual group-winning stayer in Ireland and Australia. He also comes from the same extended family as multiple group winner Bewitched.
Comerford left open the possibility of a return trip to the U.S. for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
“I think so. It’s late in the year and there’s probably not much he can do,” he said. “He likes quick ground. He ran really well at Newbury over quick ground.”