Grade 1-winning veterans Channel Maker and Sadler's Joy, who together have combined to earn more than $4.7 million in purses during their lengthy careers, will attempt to put the brakes on frustrating losing streaks in the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green on the inner turf at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, August 1.
The 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green is part of a Whitney Day program featuring three Grade 1 events led by the historic Whitney Stakes at 1 1/8 miles with an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic on November 7 at Keeneland on the line.
The card is bolstered by the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign Stakes, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Distaff in November; and the Grade 1, $300,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy for 3-year-olds sprinting seven furlongs.
Also on the stakes-laden card is the $200,000 Caress, a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for older fillies and mares.
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
||Pillar Mountain (IRE)
Channel Maker (Gary Barber, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Wachtel Stable and R.A. Hill Stables) has gone winless in nine starts since his neck victory in the Grade 1 Man o' War in May 2019 at Belmont Park, also contested at the Bowling Green distance.
Channel Maker, a gelded 6-year-old son of turf champion English Channel, has been beaten less a length or less three times during his current drought including last year's Bowling Green, where he came up three-quarters of a length shy of defending his 2018 dead-heat victory. Most recently, he finished fourth by a length after pressing the pace into the stretch of the 1 ¼-mile Manhattan on July 4 at Belmont.
"He's an interesting horse. He's been working out well. He ran a really tough race last time. I thought he put in a tremendous effort and was right there at the end," co-owner Dean Reeves said. "He's just the kind of horse that we'll get a lot of racing out of. He's been fairly consistent, if he gets the right trip. He's kind of a difficult horse to handle. He gets a little bit rank and a little bit wanting to go, but he's been consistent, he's a dual Grade 1 winner and we've got a lot to look forward to."
Overall, Channel Maker sports a record of 5-5-3 with nearly $2.2 million in purse earnings from 33 starts. Reeves bought into the chestnut following his triumph in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic in 2018.
"He just keeps kind of rocking along and then every now and then he gets a big race. We hope maybe it'll be Saturday in the Bowling Green," Reeves said. "I don't think there's a lot of speed in it. I suspect we'll be close to the front, and he likes Saratoga. He likes this track and Belmont quite a bit, so I think we've got a good shot."
Manny Franco, up in the Manhattan, returns to ride from post 5.
Sadler's Joy (Woodslane Farm) earned his lone career Grade 1 victory in the 2018 Sword Dancer at Saratoga and was second by a neck in last year's edition. The 7-year-old gelding capped his 2019 campaign by winning the Grade 3 Red Smith last November at Aqueduct, but has gone winless in four tries this year.
Trained by Tom Albertrani, Sadler's Joy has run third in his last three races, each by diminishing margins. He was beaten 4 ¾ lengths in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park in February, two lengths in the June 4 Tiller at Belmont - both at 1 3/8 miles - and three-quarters in the Manhattan.
"He came out of the Manhattan doing really well. He's been training very well and hopefully we just get a good trip," Albertrani said. "The horse always seems to run his race. He's been narrowly beaten in several races, but he shows up. Just hopefully we get him back into the winner's circle one of these times."
Albertrani is hoping his regular rider, Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, will be able to carve out a good trip from post 6 for the late-running Sadler's Joy, who has finished in the top three in 21 of 30 lifetime starts, seven of them wins, with more than $2.5 million in purses earned.
"He's just such a tricky horse to ride, with his style. He always loses a lot of ground on the turns and I think that's the reason he's lost some of these turf races. He just seems to go to the wire after losing a lot of ground and he's always right there. That's just the way it is," Albertrani said.
"Nobody knows him better than Javier. He's ridden him enough times where he's gotten to really know him," he added. "You have to time everything just right with him. He ran huge the last race he won back at Aqueduct. It was a little bit of a class break for him but he was able to make that big, wide move and draw away. He always has to get a good trip."
Todd Pletcher, who trained Channel Cat to victory in last year's Bowling Green, will make his title defense with Team Valor International's Pillar Mountain. Bred in Ireland, the 5-year-old son of Kodiac has raced once in 2020, closing to be sixth by 3 ¼ lengths in a 1 1/8-mile optional claiming allowance on June 20 at Belmont.
Pillar Mountain won a similar spot going 1 3/8 miles last summer at Saratoga, earning him a shot in the Sword Dancer, where he finished sixth. In his only other stakes attempts, both last fall, he was seventh behind Grade 1 winner Zulu Alpha in the Grade 3 Kentucky Turf Cup at Keeneland and third in the 1 ½-mile Point Of Entry at Belmont.
"The last race was a little short of his best so I thought it was an acceptable comeback race and he should appreciate the added distance," Pletcher said. "He's a stayer, so we look forward to getting back to a distance that suits him. He seems to be in good form and he likes the track, so we'll see if he can step it up."
Hall of Famer John Velazquez rides Pillar Mountain from post 7.
Trainer Mike Maker entered the Three Diamonds Farm-owned pair of Cross Border and Marzo.
Cross Border, who won the Lubash against fellow New York-breds on July 22 at the Spa, is a perfect 4-0 at Saratoga, turning the triple last summer. He won a conditioned starter by three lengths last July, then took a pair of New York-bred allowance events 18 days apart in August.
Cross Border set the pace in the Manhattan two starts back before being passed late and wound up fifth, beaten a length, and was nailed at the wire in similar fashion in the Grade 3 W.L. McKnight in January at Gulfstream.
The 4-year-old Marzo won the Grade 3 Sycamore in October 2019 at Keeneland in his second start since being claimed by Maker for $62,500, and has not raced since his seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Memorial in March at Fair Grounds.
Jose Ortiz retains the mount on Cross Border from post 2, while older brother Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Marzo from post 1.
Completing the field are Ten Strike Racing's Dot Matrix [post 4, Joel Rosario], winner of the Grade 3 John B. Connally in January at Sam Houston, and Joyce B. Young's Highland Sky [post 3, Junior Alvarado], who captured an off-the-turf edition of the John's Call last summer at Saratoga.
The Bowling Green is slated as Race 11 on Saturday's 12-race card, which offers a first post of 1:10 p.m. Eastern.
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