With the blinkers back on, and a return to conditions that bring out the best in him, Gufo hit top gear late to retain his crown in Saturday’s $750,000 Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga. The 4.40-1 chance caught the 18.60-1 Mira Mission by a half-length in this “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Gufo was stretching back out to 1 1/2 miles for the first time since his sharp score in the Apr. 2 Pan American (G2). The Christophe Clement trainee dropped his next three going shorter. Worse still, he relapsed into his old lackadaisical manner when a belated fifth in the July 23 United Nations (G1).
Thus the blinkers, which Gufo took off for the Pan American, were donned again, and he secured more sensible position at the Spa. Settled in seventh by regular rider Joel Rosario, Gufo was never more than roughly six lengths off the pace, instead of digging himself into an insurmountable hole.
Meanwhile, habitual front runner Tribhuvan set up shop through fractions of :24.39, :48.98, 1:13.99, and 1:38.96 on the good inner turf. Elder statesman Channel Maker, the 2020 Sword Dancer winner who was making his fifth consecutive appearance in this race, tracked until leaving the final turn.
The first to pounce was Mira Mission. Parked in fourth early, he was on the premises when Tribhuvan tried to put the race away entering the stretch. Mira Mission made his bid for glory, driving past the pacesetter and spurting three lengths clear.
Then Rosario produced Gufo. The son of Declaration of War relentlessly gained inside the final sixteenth and collared Mira Mission in a final time of 2:28.92. Gufo joins past back-to-back Sword Dancer winners Majesty’s Prince (1983-84), El Senor (1989-90), With Anticipation (2001-02), Grand Couturier (2007-08), Telling (2009-10), and Flintshire (2015-16).
“It was a good trip,” said Rosario, who would complete a big-race double with Epicenter in the Travers (G1). “He really came with run when asked and we’re lucky to get it today. He really responded well, but you never know if the horse in front will keep going, but he responded to everything I asked him to do. He looked like he likes it here; he won it last year and did it again this year.”
Mira Mission’s jockey, Julien Leparoux, was feeling the mixed emotions of a near-miss.
“I’m very happy with second, but at the same time I’m disappointed to not win because we had such a great race,” Leparoux said. “The horse felt great. We really thought it was his day today. He ran a good race and tried hard. He ran a winning race and I’m very happy with the trip we had. No excuse.”
In pursuit were two closing from farther back. Gufo’s stablemate Soldier Rising checked in another half-length astern in third. Aidan O’Brien shipper Broome, the 1.55-1 favorite, was the same margin back in fourth. Although his bobbling, tardy start didn’t help, Broome also lacked the requisite gear when asked to lift on the far turn, and he advanced in workmanlike fashion down the lane.
There was a four-length gap back to fifth-placer Cross Border, followed by Tribhuvan, Cold Hard Cash, Adhamo, Rockemperor, and Channel Maker, in his worst Sword Dancer result. Aside from his past trophy, Channel Maker had finished second (2018), fourth (2019), and sixth (2021).
Bred by John Little and Stephen Cainelli in Kentucky, and campaigned by Cainelli’s Otter Bend Stables, Gufo has compiled a mark of 19-9-3-5, $1,983,030. The blaze-faced chestnut has been among the leading performers in the division for three seasons. During his sophomore season in 2020, Gufo captured the Belmont Derby (G1) and Kent (G3) (in course-record time at Delaware Park) while placing in the Saratoga Derby and Hollywood Derby (G1). Aside from his two Sword Dancers, he’s finished second in the past two runnings of the Man o’ War (G1) and third in the Manhattan (G1) for two straight years.
“He’s won a Grade 1 as a three-year-old, a four-year-old and now a five-year-old. He’s been a very good horse these past three years,” Clement said. “Unfortunately, in his last race, sometimes he has a tendency to drop too far out of it. I took the blinkers off because he trained so forwardly earlier on in the year.
“As the year went on, he became lazier and lazier. Today, he had a great trip. He was never that far back and he was traveling well. When Joel asked him, he exploded in the stretch. I’m delighted. I thought the horse deserved the win and I’m happy for Joel with the long day.
“This is a fun race. I won it when I was younger with horses named Honor Glide (1999) and Winchester (2011). I’m very happy.”
Gufo could try to improve upon his third in last fall’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1) and disappointing 10th in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. As ever, Clement wants to let the dust settle before confirming an agenda.
“Looking forward, we’re going to enjoy this one,” the horseman said. “We might have a glass of wine tonight. We’ll worry about the next race tomorrow morning.”
Gufo is the second millionaire for his dam, the Petionville mare Floy, who is also responsible for multiple Grade 3 hero Hogy. She descends from Broodmare of the Year Too Bald, dam of champion Capote and transatlantic celebrity Exceller.