SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Coming with his patented late kick down the stretch of the inner turf course at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, trainer Christophe Clement’s Gufo came out on top in the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer for the second year in a row and gave Clement his fourth victory in the race overall.
It hasn’t been the smoothest of rides for Gufo, a 5-year-old son of Declaration of War, since his win in the Sword Dancer last year. He closed out his 2021 campaign with a 10th-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf, and while he began 2022 with a win in the Grade 2 Pan American at Gulfstream Park, the results got progressively worse in his latest three outings, having most recently finished fifth in the Grade 1 United Nations behind Adhamo, who was among those in the starting gate for Saturday’s Sword Dancer along with last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf runner-up Broome.
Going back to the drawing board for the race, Clement chose to re-apply blinkers to Gufo, who wore them in his prior Sword Dancer win but shed them to begin his 5-year-old campaign. The move proved prescient, as Gufo remained more engaged early in the race than he had in the United Nations, during which he found himself a dozen or more lengths off the pace at various points of call.
“He’s won a Grade 1 as a 3-year-old, a 4-year-old and now a 5-year-old,” said Clement, who also won the Sword Dancer in 1999 with Honor Glide and in 2011 with Winchester. “He’s been a very good horse these past three years. Unfortunately, in his last race, sometimes he has a tendency to drop too far out of it. I took the blinkers off because he trained so forwardly earlier on in the year. As the year went on, he became lazier and lazier. Today, he had a great trip. He was never that far back and he was traveling well. When Joel [Rosario] asked him, he exploded in the stretch. I’m delighted. I thought the horse deserved the win and I’m happy for Joel with the long day.”
Gufo’s repeat bid was also aided by 3-2 favorite Broome breaking slowly, forcing him to work a little harder to reach Gufo’s position in midpack in the early going as the two sat well off Tribhuvan, who went out to lead the field through honest splits of 24.39 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 48.98 for the half, and 1:13.99 for three-quarters.
After going a mile in 1:38.86, it was the upstart Mira Mission that made the first move into the teeth of the pace as the field bounded around the final turn. As Tribhuvan backed away into the stretch, Mira Mission and jockey Julien Leparoux took control of the race and spurted away from the others, appearing destined to pull off the upset at 18-1. Not to be outdone, however, Joel Rosario piloted Gufo out into the clear and the two came with powerful strides to surge past in the final sixteenth, winning by a half-length in a final time of 2:28.92.
“It was a good trip,” said Rosario. “He really came with run when asked and we’re lucky to get it today. He really responded well but you never know if the horse in front will keep going, but he responded to everything I asked him to do. He looked like he likes it here, he won it last year and did it again this year.”
Owned by Otter Bend Stables, Gufo returned $10.80 on a $2 win wager and increased his career earnings just shy of the $2 million mark. With its status as a Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ event, the Sword Dancer also assures Gufo will be able to take another crack at the Breeders’ Cup Turf this year at Keeneland, all expenses paid, should his connections so choose.
“Looking forward, we’re going to enjoy this one. We might have a glass of wine tonight. We’ll worry about the next race tomorrow morning,” remarked Clement.
Trained by Ian Wilkes, Mira Mission nearly pulled off a similar upset earlier in the year in the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, which he lost by a neck to Santin. A 4-year-old son of Noble Mission, he had not previously raced further than a mile and an eighth but acquitted himself well at a marathon distance, even in defeat.
“I’m very happy with second but at the same time I’m disappointed to not win because we had such a great race,” said Julien Leparoux, jockey aboard Mira Mission. “The horse felt great. We really thought it was his day today. He ran a good race and tried hard. He ran a winning race and I’m very happy with the trip we had. No excuse.”
Checking in third, a half-length behind Mira Mission, was another Clement trainee in Soldier Rising. While not as ballyhooed as his stablemate, Soldier Rising finished second in a Grade 1 on the Saratoga turf last year as a sophomore, and ran a gallant race to come within a length of victory in the Sword Dancer.
The poor-starting Broome finished fourth, another half-length behind Soldier Rising. It was another four lengths back to Cross Border in fifth, who was followed home by Tribhuvan, Cold Hard Cash, Adhamo, Rockemperor and Channel Maker.
Live racing resumes Sunday at Saratoga with a 10-race card featuring the $135,000 Better Talk Now in Race 8 and the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina Handicap, offering a “Win and You’re In” berth to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, in Race 9. First post is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
Saratoga Live will present daily coverage and analysis of the summer meet at Saratoga Race Course on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.
NYRA Bets is the official wagering platform of Saratoga Race Course, and the best way to bet every race of the summer meet. Available to horseplayers nationwide, the NYRA Bets app is available for download today on iOS and Android at www.NYRABets.com.
NYRA Press Office
Main photo: Gufo wins the Grade 1 Sword Dancer (Chelsea Durand)