With a race under his belt, Winchester will aim for his fourth Grade 1 victory when he competes on Saturday in Saratoga Race Course's $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.
Winner of the 2008 Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park in his United States debut following his arrival from Ireland, Winchester last year upset stablemate Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap and added a victory in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, both at Belmont Park. He concluded his 2011 campaign with a fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in November and an 11th in the Group 1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase in December.
Now 6, Winchester, who began his career racing for trainer Dermot Weld in Ireland, was hindered earlier this year by a splint, described by trainer Christophe Clement as a "small training setback." The Mr. and Mrs. Bertram R. Firestone homebred made his 2011 debut on July 23 Arlington Park's Grade 3 Stars and Stripes, finishing second in a race that was scheduled for the turf but was transferred to the all-weather main track following rain.
"He's training well, running back a little quick, but is doing well," said Clement. "We got what we needed [out of the race], but maybe it's a little too quick. But he is doing well." Cornelio Velasquez will ride Winchester, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, from the outside in the field of 8.
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Clement also entered last year's Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap winner Grassy in the Sword Dancer but is likely to scratch the Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider representative if the turf is firm. Grassy, a 5-year-old, has made three starts in 2011, finishing fourth in a Keeneland allowance in April, reporting home second in the Three Coins Up overnight stakes at Belmont in May, and missing by a neck when runner-up in the Grade 3 Singspiel at Woodbine on June 26.
"We'll decide Saturday morning whether he is running, subject to weather," said Clement.
Javier Castellano has the assignment aboard Grassy, 5-1 on the morning line, from post 2.
Teaks North brings current Grade 1 form into the Sword Dancer, having won the United Nations by a half-length at Monmouth Park on July 2. In his previous start, the 4-year-old gelding captured the Grade 3 Monmouth on June 12, defeating dual Grade 1 winner Get Stormy in the process.
"He's at the top of his game," said Justin Sallusto, who trains Teaks North for Jules Boutelle. "I believe he'll be very, very formidable on Saturday."
While Teaks North competed at his home track in his two most recent starts, Sallusto believes the gelding is capable of transferring his form to the Spa. "I'd rather stay on my home court, but he's adaptable and is a good shipper," said Sallusto. "He'll definitely enjoy the cool Saratoga weather." Teaks North, the 3-1 morning-line second choice, will leave from post 7 with Eddie Castro aboard.
Last year's Belmont Stakes hero, Drosselmeyer, will make his first start on turf in the Sword Dancer since placing in maiden races at Saratoga and Belmont Park during his 2-year-old season.
This year, WinStar Farm's 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt has made four dirt starts, finishing an even fourth in the Challenger at Tampa Bay Downs in March, tiring to fifth in the Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream in April, defeating stablemate Birdrun by a neck in the One Count overnight stakes at Belmont in May, and failing to reel in that rival when second by 3 3/4 lengths in the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont on June 10.
Like the Sword Dancer, the Belmont Stakes and Brooklyn are 1 1/2 miles.
"He'll run over anything," said Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. "I think he handles the grass fine, the dirt fine, and Polytrack fine. The distance is important; obviously, he's [distance] horse. We'll give it a try, and see how he does in good company on the grass and see what our options are later on."
Drosselmeyer, 8-1 on the morning line, will leave from the rail with Jose Lezcano aboard.
Al Khali, also trained by Mott, was entered in the Sword Dancer but will only run over firm turf. Owned by Brous Stable and Wachtel Stable, Al Khali was fifth in the Grade 1 Man O' War on July 9 and is seeking his first victory since the Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont in September.
Phipps Stable's Boisterous is just now hitting his best stride at the age of 4, having picked up his first stakes win when he defeated Grassy in the Three Coins Up on May 22. He acquitted himself well in his graded stakes debut, finishing third by 3 1/4 lengths in the Grade 1 Man O' War.
John Velazquez has the call aboard 4-1 morning-line third choice Boisterous from post 5.
The Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap field also includes Grade 1 winner Rahy's Attorney and Bim Bam, second in his two most recent starts, including the Grade 1 Manhattan.
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