08/08/2001 11:00PM

Old-timers gather for Sword Dancer


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The geriatric set commands the spotlight in Saturday's $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational, with the 10-year-old John's Call, 7-year-old Honor Glide, both former winners of this race, plus the 6-year-old With Anticipation among the leading contenders in the demanding 1 1/2-mile test on the turf course.

These old warriors, who keep coming back for more competition, illustrate again that the grass is definitely greener when it comes to longevity. The horse to beat in the Sword Dancer, however, appears to be that 4-year-old youngster, King Cugat, who has never been better, if we can judge by his impressive win in last month's Bowling Green at Belmont Park. He produced an acceleration that was a treat to see and got up to score under Jerry Bailey, who has ridden brilliantly here and will have the mount again. For his efforts in the 11-furlong Bowling Green, King Cugat, by the Mr. Prospector stallion Kingmambo, earned a zesty Beyer Speed Figure of 114.

He has trained nicely in the interim, and Bill Mott had considered him for next week's Arlington Million in Chicago. The opportunity to avoid a trip in the hot weather was a consideration in the decision. Another was that Mott has a strong candidate for the 1 1/4-mile Million in Hap, winner of the Bernard Baruch here. There is also the matter of Breeders' Cup plans. Mott wants to be sure he has the right horse for the Breeders' Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles.

Mott, a Hall of Fame horseman, is seeking his fourth victory in the Sword Dancer. He won it with Theatrical in 1987, and Fraise in 1992, both of whom went on to Breeders' Cup victories. In all likelihood, he would have pursued the same itinerary with Broadway Flyer, who was injured after his 1996 Sword Dancer victory and never ran again.

Centennial Farm, an organization that puts together group purchases, acquired King Cugat out of the Saratoga yearling sale of 1990 for $110,000. Under Mott's direction, he has earned over $1 million, and the best may be yet to come.

Art world comes to Spa

Sales week at Saratoga is also art week, the entire community turned into a giant gallery for the display of sporting art. There are exhibits at the Sales Pavilion on East Avenue, with many others at the track. Some paintings and sculpture can be seen in local restaurants, and there are displays in shops on Broadway. Hotels, with their large convention rooms, play a major role in this celebration of artistic license.

There are examples of quality to be found at every site. Year-in and year-out we have yet to find an exhibit to match for overall standards the show produced at the Sheraton Hotel by the British firm of Frost and Reed. This year's exhibit is no exception, and includes several examples of his mastery by Sir Alfred Munnings, perhaps the greatest sporting artist of them all. Plus a striking sketch, in pencil and gouache on paper by the French Impressionist Edgar Degas. The sketch was recently sold for $500,000 and is scheduled to tour major American cities in the year ahead.

Peter Smith, a brilliant Scot, is represented by a number of smashing oils. Our preference is a scene from the Grand National depicting the landing area of the Canal Turn at Aintree. Most scenes of this kind are painted from the outer rail, but Smith catches the steeplechase horses from an infield view as they clear the brush, and the effect is striking.

A new feature of the Frost and Reed display is a sample of the unique skills of Anthony Alonso, who continues to have his own show at the Gideon Putnam. Alonso's work at the Sheraton includes several of his celebrated mood scenes along the backstretch at Saratoga, plus an unusually detailed scene from a horse fair that is compelling.

Rochelle Levy, whose oils of horses jogging through the surf at Deauville was one of the highlights of last year's exhibit, is back with more of her exceptional concepts. Several of the Deauville scenes have been reprised and appear better than ever. Her artistic development, however, is highlighted by a racing scene from the Fair Hill meeting. Her sky and soft clouds scudding in the background are presented with a delicate touch evocative of Munnings at his best.