Del Mar Handicap : Sword Dance Has Slow Start, Finishes Fast

Special to The Times

Sword Dance, a 4-year-old colt from Ireland who has taken nearly this long to learn how to run and still hasn’t learned how to get started, nonetheless proved he has a great knack for finishing by winning Monday’s $300,000 Del Mar Handicap.

From the beginning when, as usual, Sword Dance balked at the idea of going into the starting gate, until the end, when jockey Chris McCarron waited and waited for an opening at the rail, this was no walk in the park.

Unless, that is, you consider the slowest of fractions set by front-running Great Communicator which assured this 1 3/8-mile race on the turf would be a wide-open battle to the finish.

“I knew there was going to be no pace and I knew they’d bunch up,” said John Gosden, Sword Dance’s trainer. “That’s why I told Chris to take him outside. I was worried we’d get trapped down on the inside.”


With a quarter-mile left to run, and unable to execute Gosden’s instructions because of heavy traffic, McCarron and Sword Dance were at the rail. And they were trapped.

Great Communicator, who meandered along at 50.1 seconds for a half-mile and 1:15.1 for six furlongs, was leading. Putting ranged up second, on his outside. McCarron waited.

Then he got an opening. Ray Sibille, aboard Great Communicator, hit his horse with a left-handed whip as the field turned for home and the leader drifted off the rail just a bit.

“My horse always responds well to a left-handed whip,” Sibille said. “I knew somebody was there at the rail but I had to hit him. He just moved out a bit.”


McCarron and Sword Dance were waiting to pounce. They breezed through and out-ran at least five other runners who had a shot at the top of the stretch.

Sword Dance returned $13.60, $6.80 and $5.80 to the betting public but was worth much more to Gosden, who’s has trained the winner of this race three times in the last 6 years. He trained Barberstown in 1985 and Bel Bolide in 1983.

“This horse came to me from Ireland and they said he needed to run on harder grass,” Gosden said of his colt, who won one of two allowance races since arriving in the U.S. this summer. “He’s just learning how to run now.”

Great Communicator, who usually runs well on the lead but who set too slow of a pace to hold off Sword Dance, finished second and paid $4.60 and $4.20. Another Gosden-trained entry, Baba Karam, finished third and paid $7.20.


Afterward, McCarron downplayed the patient ride that produced his seventh stakes win at the meeting.

“Once we got started, I knew he had a lot of run in him,” McCarron said.

But getting started is never easy with this horse. His last time out, in early August, starters blindfolded him trying to get him into the gate. When that didn’t work, they had to back him in.

This time, McCarron had to jump off as Sword Dance delayed entering. It took four men to push him into his No. 2 post position. McCarron jumped back on and off Sword Dance went.


Del Mar Notes

Jockey Alex Solis was suspended for 5 racing days by the board of stewards Monday for failing to keep Approved To Fly in a straight line during the stretch run of Sunday’s Del Mar Debutante. Approved To Fly, which finished first, was disqualified and placed second behind Lea Lucinda. Solis, fourth in the jockey standings with 32 wins, will miss racing Sept. 9-12 and Sept. 14. Solis can still ride in the Ramona Handicap (Sept. 12) and the Del Mar Futurity (Sept. 14) because both have been ruled as “designated” races for this meeting.