08/15/2013 5:10PM

Saratoga: Hard-luck Al Khali takes fourth shot at Sword Dancer

Barbara D. Livingston
Although he always tries hard, Al Khali remains winless in 18 tries at the Grade 1 level heading into Saturday's Sword Dancer.

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With little fanfare, Al Khali has competed at the highest level of racing for the last five years. Still lacking that signature victory, Al Khali will try again in Saturday’s Grade 1, $600,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga.

His appearance in the Sword Dancer will mark the fifth straight year he has run in a graded stakes at Saratoga and the fourth consecutive year he has run in the Sword Dancer. Al Khali, a 7-year-old ridgling by Medaglia d’Oro, finished second to Point of Entry in last year’s Sword Dancer after finishing third in the race in both 2010 and 2011.

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In 2009, his first year in the United Stakes after competing in Peru as a 2-year-old, Al Khali won the Grade 3 Saranac Stakes after finishing third in the Grade 2 Hall of Fame.

For his career, Al Khali has run in 27 graded stakes, winning two – the Grade 2 Bowling Green at Belmont in 2010 and the Saranac.

Al Khali has been both exhilarating and frustrating for co-owners Adam Wachtel and Nils Brous, who purchased Al Khali privately from WinStar Farm following a second-place finish in the A Gift Stakes at Belmont in 2009. This will be his 38th career start and his 37th for Wachtel and Brous and trainer Bill Mott.

“We haven’t made too many mistakes with him in terms of running him too often,” Wachtel said. “I think we’ve been pretty kind to him. The one time we made a mistake this year was at Keeneland when we ran him back too quick. You can’t do that with him.”

Wachtel acknowledged that Al Khali can be a bit finicky and a bit tricky to ride. He’s the type of horse who needs to be covered up and then turned loose. The problem is that he often finds trouble.

“I’ve never had a horse that got in trouble every damn time he runs like he does,” Wachtel said. “Even the Bowling Green when he won it, he was stopped dead. Bill was walking out of the box in disgust, as was I, and we turn around, here he comes, and he wins the race.”

Al Khali is winless in 18 tries in Grade 1 stakes. Last year, Al Khali was beaten a neck in the Northern Dancer at Woodbine in his next start after the Sword Dancer. However, it’s the 2010 Canadian International, where Al Khali finished fourth – beaten three-quarters of a length – that still gnaws at Wachtel.

“That’s the one that makes me the sickest of all – $2 million, and he got beat three-quarters of a length,” Wachtel said. “With a sixteenth of a mile to go, he’s checked for the fourth time, and he comes flying again.”

Al Khali has one win from four starts this year, that coming in an allowance race at Tampa Bay Downs. In his most recent start, Al Khali finished sixth behind Boisterous, beaten 5 3/4 lengths. Wachtel said Al Khali was making a move along the inside when Finnegans Wake came over and jockey Junior Alvarado steadied his horse.

“I thought in the Man o’ War he was going to win the race,” Wachtel said. “He had a ton of horse. He had a decision to make: get him out – he’s a massive horse – or go down on the inside. If you’re going to do that, pretend you’re Jerry Bailey and just keep going. He got in trouble. [Finnegans Wake] starts to float over a little bit, Junior grabs hold of him and stops his momentum. If he doesn’t win, he’s second.”

On Saturday, Joe Rocco Jr. will ride Al Khali, making him the 14th jockey to ride him in the United States.

Though he is coming to the end of his 7-year-old season, Al Khali may not be done yet.

“As long as Bill tells me he’s healthy, we’ll keep running him,” Wachtel said.

Micahdog More than 1 year ago
Impossible parlay for Saturday. LONDON LANE in Sword Dancer and FINNEGAN'S WAKE in Arlington Million. IF we get fast pace in both it becomes a little less impossible. London Lane can swoop like last time at 50-1 with Karamos making the trip. Remember another bomb in BC few years ago when Robby (for Dale Romans) held on with Court Vision and beat Lopresti's outstanding Turallure. If you don't get a price why throw the dice ? Great weekend to all.
Lawrence Vaccarelli More than 1 year ago
always liked the old man and always use him in the mix.
martymar . More than 1 year ago
I've seen Al Khali race several times at woodbine and I'm hoping he finally wins that elusive G1 race.
tim More than 1 year ago
Great betting race. Awesome stuff. Look forward to this one.
Micahdog More than 1 year ago
Nice that we have a full field but this race as tough as it gets.........weight and distance may play a bigger part in here so I am boldly going to throw out Big Blue Kitten and look for the race to turn upside down. London Lane, Exclusive Strike and Boisterous just may be the 'bombs' shaklng things up. No single selection but with Karamous coming to Saratoga gotta try Ex Bx London Lane with Exclusive Strike and Boisterous. Ex Bx 11 with 9 and 10. It's a horse race ! Good luck whatever your choices.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
This is it he was sneakily loaded in the Man o War and looked Great in the PP and took $$ LOOK OUT!
Doug Paslaski More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge Al Khali supporter....one time big guy!