08/08/2007 11:00PM

Sword Dancer yields a classic rivalry


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - This summer is going so well for the New York Racing Association that even Saturday's $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational is worthy of its Grade 1 billing.

Often overshadowed by the more prestigious and richer Arlington Million run on the same day, Saturday's 33rd renewal of the Sword Dancer features the seventh match-up between multimillionaires English Channel and Better Talk Now. Those two headline a nine-horse field entered for the 1 1/2-mile turf stakes run over Saratoga's inner turf course.

Better Talk Now will break from post 3 under Ramon Dominguez while English Channel leaves from post 5 under John Velazquez. Both horses carry 123 pounds, 5 to 7 pounds more than the rest of the field.

English Channel, a four-time Grade 1 winner and earner of $3.2 million, has finished ahead of Better Talk Now in four of the previous six match-ups, including last month's Grade 1 United Nations when English Channel set a Monmouth Park course record of 2:12.89 for 1 3/8 miles. Better Talk Now, a five-time Grade 1 winner and earner of nearly $3.9 million, finished third, beaten three lengths.

But the dynamic changes somewhat in the Sword Dancer, a race Better Talk Now won in 2004. An extra eighth of a mile may play into Better Talk Now's favor as could the possibility of a contested pace and a weather forecast that called for thunderstorms on Friday after some rain fell on Wednesday.

"I think an honest pace can help everybody,'' said Graham Motion, trainer of Better Talk Now. "The rain will help. I'd love to get some more.''

Motion believes the firm Monmouth Park turf course favored horses who raced on or near the pace such as English Channel. Better Talk Now is a stone-cold closer, who will be last early.

Ramazutti, who prompted the pace in last year's Sword Dancer, and Fri Guy, who set the pace in the United Nations, are in this field. Todd Pletcher trains both English Channel and Ramazutti, but said Ramazutti is not in the race to serve as a rabbit. Ramazutti, who helped set things up for the Pletcher-trained Go Deputy in last year's Sword Dancer, is getting blinkers for the first time on Saturday.

"It seems like his best chance in a race like this would be if he could get away with an easy lead,'' Pletcher said.

The presence of Ramazutti should at least give English Channel a target. English Channel can be rank in the early stages of his races, which can sometimes take just enough starch out of him to be costly, especially going 1 1/2 miles.

"I don't think the mile and a half is going to hurt him; I think the only thing is he's a lot more difficult to control,'' said John Velazquez, who has ridden English Channel in all but one of his 20 lifetime starts. "It's not the last eighth of a mile [that's a concern], it's the first eighth of a mile.''

Trippi's Storm could be an interesting value horse in this field. After failing to win in maiden $32,000 company on dirt, Trippi's Storm has won 3 of 5 starts on turf. His two losses have come to Silver Tree, who won last weekend's Fourstardave, and Sunriver, one of the choices for Saturday's Arlington Million. It was Trippi's Storm's runner-up finish behind Silver Tree that led trainer Stan Hough to try longer distances.

"He galloped out strong and that encouraged me that he might keep going,'' Hough said. "We don't know his limitations on distance, but we want to try.''

Always First, a two-time winner at 1 1/2 miles; Grand Couturier, third in this race last year; Crown Point; and Embossed complete the Sword Dancer field.