Front-running Glorious Empire and closing Channel Maker were inseparable at the wire in Saturday’s $250,000 Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga. By sharing the spoils as the first dead heat winners in stakes history, each gelding claimed his first graded victory.
For Matthew Schera’s seven-year-old Glorious Empire, the journey has been long and circuitous. The Irish-bred learned his trade as a handicapper with British trainer Ed Walker in 2014, then shipped to Caspar Fownes in Hong Kong where he was known as Quaternion Eagle. After bleeding in just his second start at Sha Tin in 2015, he retired from that circuit and resurfaced with Walker in 2016, only to bleed in his Newmarket comeback.
Glorious Empire found refuge stateside, first with Thomas Morley, but he’s occasionally bled through Lasix – e.g., when claimed for his current owner out of a trailing effort at Belmont Park in May 2017, and when eased in his seasonal finale in the Baltimore/Washington International Turf Cup (G2). Transferred from Carlos Martin to James Lawrence II over the winter, Glorious Empire improved from a sixth in the April 21 Henry Clark at Laurel to dominate a Delaware Park allowance last out.
In contrast, Wachtel Stable and Gary Barber’s Channel Maker, last year’s Canadian champion three-year-old male, has been on the cusp of graded glory. The Bill Mott trainee earned his Sovereign Award with a photo-finish decision in the Breeders’ S. as well as placings in the Hollywood Derby (G1) and Marine (G3), and he was a decent fourth in the Queen’s Plate. His stakes win/graded placing theme was set early in his juvenile campaign for original owner Joey Gee Thoroughbreds and trainer Danny Vella, for he broke his maiden in the 2016 Vandal and finished third in the Summer (G2).
So far in 2018, Channel Maker had been competing exclusively in Grade 1 company, his best result a third in the Frank E. Kilroe Mile (G1) at Santa Anita. The son of English Channel bookended that with fifths in both the Gulfstream Park Turf (G1) and Old Forester Turf Classic (G1), and he was coming off an eighth in the blanket finish Manhattan (G1) on Belmont Day.
Just as their career paths were different entering the Bowling Green, so were their odds and running styles. Glorious Empire, the second-longest shot on the board at 22-1, made a bold attempt to wire the field over the soft inner turf. Channel Maker, the 5-1 third choice, had to make up a 3 1/2-length deficit from off the pace.
Glorious Empire hoped to reprise his pacesetting romp over this same course in a $50,000 claimer almost exactly a year ago. The same rider was aboard, Julien Leparoux, who nursed him through slow fractions of :26.07, :51.69, 1;17.01, and 1:41.31. Giving them the slip on the final turn, as the stalking 8-5 favorite Hi Happy and Manitoulin gave way, he opened up by daylight into the stretch. But Glorious Empire began to tread water inside the final furlong, and the Holy Roman Emperor gelding was desperately reaching for the line.
Channel Maker, reserved in fourth much of the way, emerged as the main danger. Slogging on for Joel Rosario, he joined the longtime leader in the shadow of the post. His high head carriage appeared a detriment compared to Glorious Empire’s stretch, and he was also spotting six pounds, but Channel Maker did enough to compensate. The dead heaters negotiated 1 3/8 miles in 2:19.41. The game Glorious Empire sparked a $21.40 win mutuel, while Channel Maker paid $7.40.
Sadler’s Joy, third in the 2017 Bowling Green, was once again meritorious in the show spot. With too much ground to make up in these circumstances, he finished well to miss by all of a half-length. Last year’s Bowling Green runner-up, Bigger Picture, rallied from last in a commendable fourth. Next came Highland Sky, Hi Happy, Manitoulin, and the long-way last Sarrasin, the Australian shipper who just hasn’t adapted. Money Multiplier was scratched.
Glorious Empire enhanced his resume to 22-8-0-3, $317,141. On the last Saturday in July 2014, he was finishing fourth in an Ascot handicap on the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1) undercard. Now he hits a new high on King George Day, four years later and an ocean away. Bred by Patrick Grogan in the Emerald Isle, he was produced by the unraced Pivotal mare Humble and Proud, herself a half-sister to multiple Group 2-placed stakes winner Delsarte.
Channel Maker’s scorecard stands at 18-3-3-3, $630,000. A full brother to last year’s Canadian champion turf male Johnny Bear, he was bred by Tall Oaks in Ontario. His dam, stakes winner and Monmouth course record-setter In Return, is a Horse Chestnut mare from the family of Grade 1 victress Auntie Mame.
Quotes from Saratoga
Trainer James Lawrence on Glorious Empire: “I owe it to Edgar Prado, the Hall of Fame jockey who rode him last time. He said, ‘Chuck, this horse wants to go further. I really believe this horse will go a mile and a quarter.’ We stretched it out a little further.
“We weren’t quite sure if he would like soft ground, but that was the plan, to get the lead and try to slow it down. It just worked out. Just worked out. We wanted to get him out there by himself and let him settle, and hopefully, get away with easy fractions. At the top of the lane I didn’t think they would catch him.”
Channel Maker’s jockey Joel Rosario: “He ran well. I thought for a second we had the horse on the inside (Glorious Empire) but he kept on running. He was a little far away from me so I couldn’t tell. I thought we won the race. We when he came back it was so close, very close.”
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott on Channel Maker: “We had him in some very tough races and he is a sort of a come-from-behind horse. Sometimes, he’s had to deal with a lot of traffic and he has had some trips where he has been stopped and shuffled around a bit. He got a clear run today and it paid off today. We got there, I just wish we go one inch further, but it was still a good race and I’m proud of the horse and proud of everyone who has done a good job with the horse and thankful to the owners letting us run him in these good races.”