Center Divider makes the grade
SARATOGA SPRINGS If turf router Center Divider is going to break through against top company, it’s going to happen today.
Trained by Mechanicville native Chad Brown, the 5-year-old son of Giant’s Causeway comes into the Grade I $600,000 Sword Dancer off a runner-up finish in the Grade I Man o’ War to Point of Entry, and Brown has him in peak condition.
“I’ve never seen him look better or train better,” he said. “He certainly has to prove he belongs with Grade I horses, so the jury’s still out there. But if I’m going to take a shot in a Grade I with this horse, I’d rather do it now, because he’s in top condition, career-wise, in my opinion, from what I’m seeing in the mornings.”
This 11⁄2-mile race for horses 3 and older is certainly a good spot to prove he belongs. The race came up pretty tough with 2-1 morning-line favorite Turbo Compressor, 5-2 Point of Entry and 6-1 Triple Crown veteran Brilliant Speed. Al Khali, Newsdad, Tahoe Lake, Game Ball and Hailstone round out the field.
Center Divider, the 5-1 third choice, is 4-5-3 from his 18 career starts, one of the most telling coming in the John’s Call here last year. He had a bad start, but jockey Ramon Dominguez got him back in it in time to finish second.
“It was a good race, he got really compromised at the start and still got up for second,” Brown said. “I’m a big believer, especially with Saratoga’s turf, if a horse likes both the surface and the turns here, then they like it. And if they don’t, they don’t. He’s shown he can handle it and he likes it. I’m optimistic this horse is going to run a really good race. Where his best race puts him against these, I’m not sure.”
A trio of these horses come into the race out of this year’s John’s Call. Tahoe Lake, Hailstone and Game Ball were second, third and fourth, respectively.
Point of Entry is 4-0-1 from his last six starts, winning the Grade II Elkhorn at this distance two back before his victory in the Man o’ War at 13⁄8 miles.
Turbo Compressor also is 4-0-1 from his last six for trainer Todd Pletcher, missing the board only in the Grade I Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in that stretch. He is coming off a win in the 13⁄8-mile Grade I United Nations at Monmouth. Al Khali was third in that race and Brilliant Speed finished sixth.
“It simply depends on the pace scenario, but he continues to handle the increase in distances we’ve been offering, and he appreciates being on the lead,” Pletcher told the New York Racing Association. “Some people are reluctant to take their horse out of their natural running style [against Turbo Compressor]. It’s a balancing act, jeopardizing your own horse to ensure faster fractions. It’s not only his ability to show speed, but he relaxes once he’s there.”
ALSO TRAINING WELL
Brilliant Speed has not won since the Grade III Saranac here last year, a score that came after he finished more than 10 lengths behind Stay Thirsty in the Grade II Jim Dandy. Earlier in the year, he was seventh in the Kentucky Derby and just 21⁄4 lengths back in third in the Belmont.
“He’s been running in all the big races. He’s been a bit unlucky, really, in a couple of his races, especially in the United Nations, where [jockey Joel] Rosario, I think, used bad judgment taking him back off the slow pace, and it didn’t work out very well,” trainer Tom Albertrani said. “But he’s been close. He’s always right there, and he’s been training exceptionally well going into the Sword Dancer. And the competition is basically the same. He’s run with Al Khali a couple of times, he’s beaten him and Al Khali’s beaten us. Turbo Compressor’s beaten him [Al Khali] and beaten us.”
Like Center Divider, Brilliant Speed has been training exceptionally up to the Sword Dancer, Albertrani said, and he likes the likely firm turf conditions the race will run over.
“Right now, the course is in pretty good shape and should be perfect, really, without a lot of rain,” he said. “It should be fair for everybody, right?”
Rosie Napravnik will ride Center Divider for the second time, having ridden him on the lead in the Man o’ War until exiting the final turn when Point of Entry proved stronger later. On the lead or at least forwardly placed is the best place for Center Divider, Brown said, but he was just not as good as Point of Entry that day. He was happy with the ride and said he expects having it under her belt will help Napravnik today.
“She rode the horse beautifully the last time out, like she had been riding him his whole career,” Brown said. “She just got on him and rode a beautiful race, tactically. He was second-best, and she got the job done. But it always helps, moving forward, to know the horse a little bit, and she probably learned a few things about him. When they get into the gate, it’s really going to be up to her where she wants to put him.”
Getting that race after a 21⁄2-month layoff was essential for Center Divider, Brown said, getting that last bit of fitness into him.
Now he just needs to go out and show this afternoon what he’s shown Brown in the mornings. And maybe get a little help.
“He needs to run his career race to have any chance at all, and he might additionally need one of the top ones to stub their toe a little bit, which can happen,” Brown said. “But we’re going to go out there and run our race, and whatever happens early, happens. If Turbo Compressor goes out there, then I’m sure we’ll be in close proximity to him throughout the race. And if he doesn’t, we’ll be glad to just take the lead. That’s fine.”