Updated on 09/15/2011 12:47PM

Repeat would make history

NYRA/Adam Coglianese
John's Call wins the Sword Dancer last year at age 9. If he can repeat, he will become the oldest Thoroughbred to capture a Grade 1 flat race.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.- Tommy Voss wasn't sure what to expect when he entered John's Call in last year's Sword Dancer Invitational. The last thing he expected to see was a 9-year-old gelding win by 9 3/4 lengths.

"Here we are 9 years old going in our first Grade 1 with the horse," Voss said. "He always ran well, he always tried. But to win like that, my jaw dropped. Just amazing."

One year later, a 10-year-old John's Call will try to duplicate that feat when he heads the Sword Dancer field. The $500,000 Sword Dancer, run at 1 1/2 miles over Saratoga's inner turf course, will be shown on ESPN2 via delayed tape from 6-7 p.m. Eastern.

John's Call's bid to become the oldest Thoroughbred to win a Grade 1 flat race is one of many intriguing storylines heading into the 27th Sword Dancer. King Cugat, one of the top turf horses in the country, makes his initial attempt at 1 1/2 miles for trainer Bill Mott, who has won this race three times. Ela Athena looks to become just the second mare to win the Sword Dancer.

The supporting cast is not bad, either. Honor Glide looks to regain the form that enabled him to win the 1999 Sword Dancer, while With Anticipation tries to bounce back from being disqualified in last month's Grade 1 United Nations Handicap.

Adding more intrigue to the race is Mother Nature. After a hot, dry spell, a cold front was expected to move in on Friday with potentially heavy thunderstorms. That could take the sting out of a very firm turf course.

John's Call can handle either firm or soft ground, especially at 12 furlongs. He is 5-0-2 in eight starts at 1 1/2 miles, including his demonstrative victory in last year's Sword Dancer over soft turf. John's Call is coming off the same prep - the Cape Henlopen at Delaware Park - that he used last year.

"We're following the same route this year, and we'll see what happens," Voss said. "It worked last year, you don't change it around."

John's Call will vie for favoritism with King Cugat, who at this point last year was regarded as the best 3-year-old turf horse in the country. A superior middle-distance horse, King Cugat found a mile too short for him. This year, his connections are attempting to stretch him out and he responded with a half-length victory in the Bowling Green Handicap at 1 3/8 miles.

While jockey Jerry Bailey was not all that enthused with the way King Cugat finished that day, the horse did earn a Beyer Speed Figure of 114, the highest number earned by a turf horse this year.

"The final analysis of the race would tend to make you believe it was a pretty good race," said Mott, who is confident King Cugat can handle 12 furlongs.

Mott would be reluctant to run King Cugat over soft turf and could scratch to run in next Saturday's Arlington Million.

Ela Athena will attempt to join Anka Germania as the only mares to win the Sword Dancer. Ela Athena has faced males in her last six starts, finishing second on four occasions. Owner Gary Tanaka has secured the services of Gary Stevens for Ela Athena, who arrived in Saratoga on Thursday afternoon after spending a day in quarantine at Newburgh.

The pace should be honest in the Sword Dancer. With Anticipation and Slew Valley are both coming off solid efforts in graded stakes racing on the front end. With Anticipation was disqualified for interference while finishing first in the Grade 1 U.N. at Monmouth. Slew Valley fought hard every step of the way in the Bowling Green before giving way to King Cugat.

Christophe Clement has entered both Honor Glide and Craigsteel in the Sword Dancer. He said Honor Glide would run if the turf is firm and Craigsteel would go if it is soft.

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