Channel Maker gained his first grade one win of the season and completely demolished the opposition in the Sword Dancer Stakes 2020 at Saratoga on Saturday. Now the Breeders Cup Turf, for which he is a general 20/1 chance, is on his agenda.
Ridden by Manny Franco for trainer Bill Mott, Channel Maker was sent into the lead soon after the gates opened and maintained a sensible tempo throughout the mile and a half distance to score by nearly six lengths in a time of 2 minutes 34.86 seconds.
Franco had company for much of the race but kicked clear rounding the final turn. He had to adapt his riding style to accommodate Channel Maker’s extremely high head carriage. When getting low in the drive position he had to angle his head to the left to avoid colliding with the neck.
This six-year-old son of English Channel was bred by Tall Oaks Farm in Canada. Now owned by Wachtel Stable and Gary Barber, he did not look the most likely winner to many bettors on his past form and was sent off at 8/1 but the weather gods favored him. A thunderstorm earlier in the day delivered sufficient rain to soften the turf and Channel Maker has a habit of executing his best work in testing conditions. He had won three of his four runs on soft ground and had the pack of seven runners strung out like laundry on a line by the time he crossed the wire.
It was Michael Maker’s Cross Border who started 63/20 favorite and he finished second under Jose Ortiz. Another six-year-old son of English Channel, he displayed admirable stamina and determination to make significant progress from his mid pack position but could not get anywhere near the winner. One of Maker’s other trainees, the seven-year-old Aquaphobia, was thought to be a possible a contender at 48/10. Ridden by Luis Saez he took third place beaten nine lengths.
Sadler’s Joy, also a seven-year-old, was understandably fancied by many to do well, starting second favorite at 16/5 with the well-known racebooks for Thomas Albertrani. He was drawn widest of all and fumbled his way out of the gates losing all momentum. He soon found himself bringing up the rear forcing Javier Castellano to sit and wait patiently for the majority of the race. Castellano began asking for more three furlongs from home and achieved some progress past weakening rivals to place fourth, beaten 13 lengths.
Joel Rosario broke much better from stall four on Jonathan Thomas’ five-year-old Corelli (61/10). Corelli was fairly prominent throughout but was running seriously short of gas in the final furlong and finished fifth, nearly 20 lengths behind the winner.
The French-bred Pedro Cara (67/20) was disappointing in his first run for Graham Motion. He had won a listed race over this distance in France last year and looked a possible beneficiary of give in the ground. It was admittedly an ambitious first target for this four-year-old son of Pedro The Great and he failed miserably to meet it. He never looked remotely dangerous and was sixth, beaten over 30 lengths.
Nobody was surprised when Maker’s third trainee Marzo, the 15/1 long shot of the field, emptied three furlongs from home to finish seventh and last, about 50 lengths behind the winner. He started well under Ricardo Santana from gate two and kept pace with the winner for the first mile but could not go on when it mattered.
This race was a fascinating rematch of many of the protagonists who featured in the grade two Bowling Green Stakes at this track on August 1 over a slightly shorter distance on firm ground. Sadler’s Joy was first to cross the wire closely pursued by Cross Border who was only beaten a neck. Cross Border got lucky that day and was awarded the race after the winner was demoted to fourth place for causing interference. Channel Maker was beaten two lengths and was fourth across the line but was promoted to third. Marzo was only a quarter of a length behind him but his fifth placing was unaltered after the stewards had their say.
Aquaphobia did not line up in the Bowling Green but previously ran in the grade one United Nations Stakes over a mile and three furlongs at Monmouth Park in mid-July. He seemed to relish the firm surface and was the surprise winner by a length at 11/1.
Channel Maker dead-heated with Glorious Empire to share victory in the Bowling Green Stakes back in 2018. It is not a coincidence that the turf was softened by rain on that day too. When the ground was firm in the Sword Dancer Stakes a few weeks later Glorious Empire got the better of Channel Maker by nearly two lengths.
His most significant win as a juvenile was at Woodbine in the Vandal Stakes in August 2017 for different connections when he was trained by Daniel Vella. The track was described as yielding and he made all to beat the favorite, Malibu Secret, by over two lengths.
To be fair to Channel Maker he is not a completely hopeless case on a faster surface and even has a grade one victory to his name on fast ground. That was in May last year when he won the Man o’ War Stakes at Belmont Park by a neck on going described as firm under Joel Rosario. He was only beaten half a length into second in the grade one Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Stakes at the same track when encountering similar conditions five months later too.
Connections were delighted with his easy win in the Sword Dancer, praising Manny Franco’s aggressive tactics but they were very aware that the rain was a big help too. Channel Maker needs his preferred track conditions to be at his most effective.
The Breeders’ Cup Turf is an obvious target that they are considering but they admit that rain is probably required for him to feature in the major money when there is such depth of talent. Channel Maker’s previous runs in Breeders’ Cup Turf contests have been unsuccessful but he has never encountered his desired conditions. If the ground is soft in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, do not rule him out.