Aidan O’Brien shipper Bolshoi Ballet has become something of a forgotten horse in the two years since his sophomore campaign, but the son of Galileo leapt back into the spotlight with a commanding victory in Saturday’s $750,000 Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga. Under a well-judged ride by John Velazquez, the 5.50-1 chance swept past former Ballydoyle stablemate Stone Age and drew off to earn a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1).
Bolshoi Ballet was the definition of back class, as the beaten favorite in the 2021 Derby (G1) at Epsom. Although he had gone winless since rebounding in the Belmont Derby (G1), there were extenuating circumstances in the second half of that season. He then missed virtually his entire four-year-old year, resuming with a fourth in last November’s Churchill S. off an 11-month layoff.
Thus Bolshoi Ballet started 2023 in rebuilding mode. He experimented with 1 3/4 miles in the April 22 Vintage Crop S. and checked in a distant third. Dropping back to 1 1/2 miles in the May 20 Al Rayyan (aka Aston Park) (G3) at Newbury, Bolshoi Ballet just missed to Haskoy and Israr in a bang-up third. He shortened up for the 1 1/4-mile Wolferton S. at Royal Ascot and finished a solid second. Back at Ascot for the 1 1/2-mile King George VI & Queen Elizabeth (G1), he was part of the Ballydoyle pace squad and paid the price in sixth.
“Aidan was happy with him,” traveling assistant T. J. Comerford said of his Saratoga mission. “He was training well at home. He’s been taking on horses at a high level at home, so it just worked out that he was starting to come around all year.”
The Sword Dancer offered him a golden opportunity to regain the winning thread, if he got the right trip, and Velazquez took care of that. As the elder statesman Channel Maker went forward, Stone Age joined him and appeared a bit fresh in his first start off the bench for Chad Brown. Velazquez had Bolshoi Ballet perfectly placed in a watching third, flanked by Daunt.
Channel Maker, the 2020 Sword Dancer hero who was making his sixth straight appearance in this race, sped his opening quarter in :23.65 on the yielding inner course. The nine-year-old was able to slow the tempo down through splits of :49.58 and 1:15.93, but could not maintain his lead touring the backstretch.
Stone Age asserted before reaching the mile in 1:40.93, and Bolshoi Ballet covered his move. Rounding the final turn, the two sons of Galileo, both out of Anabaa mares, raced in tandem. Bolshoi Ballet, who put his head in front at the 1 1/4-mile split in 2:05.32, gathered momentum in earnest at the top of the lane. Powering 4 1/2 lengths clear, the classy five-year-old completed 1 1/2 miles in 2:29.29.
Soldier Rising, by the great Frankel and therefore a grandson of Galileo, rallied from last to finish second by an even bigger margin. Another 5 1/2 lengths astern came Pioneering Spirit, trailed by Daunt, Stone Age, and Channel Maker. Verstappen was scratched.
“We had a great trip. Great trip,” Velazquez recapped. “The trainer told me to come out of the gate running, get him as close as you can, but give him a little break for the first half of the race. After there, the last half of the race, make sure I keep him busy. That’s the way it worked out.
“Aidan (O’Brien) told me, ‘he’s going to be lazy, so you are going to have to ride him, he doesn’t give you anything, so make sure you keep him busy.’”
Bolshoi Ballet has compiled a record of 17-5-1-3 with approximately $1.3 million in earnings. The bay scored his first stakes win in the 2021 Ballysax (G3) and made it a double at Leopardstown in the Derby Trial (G3). Accordingly anointed the Derby favorite, he was struck into at Epsom and wound up an unfortunate seventh.
His fortunes were restored only briefly at Belmont. He advanced to that summer’s Saratoga Derby (G1), only to get entangled in the pace and tire to fourth behind Joseph O’Brien’s State of Rest, who became a globetrotting celebrity. Bolshoi Ballet returned to New York for the Jockey Club Derby as a fallback option, after he was scratched from the Prix Niel (G2), and didn’t run up to form in fourth. He made another trek out to Del Mar for the Breeders’ Cup Turf, fading to sixth behind Yibir, and ran like a horse over the top when ninth to Loves Only You in the 2021 Hong Kong Cup (G1).
A rejuvenated Bolshoi Ballet can fare much better in his second Breeders’ Cup attempt this November, where Santa Anita would suit him.
“He’s a much better horse over quicker ground, and he probably wants quicker ground than this (Saratoga course),” Comerford said. “We’d only call that good ground in Europe, you’d probably call that soft.
“It’s late in the year (the Breeders’ Cup) and there’s probably not much he can do. He likes quick ground. He ran really well at Newbury over quick ground.”
Bred by Lynch-Bages and Rhinestone Bloodstock in Ireland, Bolshoi Ballet races for Westerberg and the Coolmore partners of Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith. His full brother, Southern France, was a Group 3-winning, classic-placed stayer in Europe who added a Group 2 laurel in Australia. Their dam, the Anabaa mare Alta Anna, is a half to French Group 3 vixen and classic-placed Abbatiale, ancestress of Group 3 heroes Pablo Escobarr and Roberto Escobarr.