Sunday’s $250,000 Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga took a gut-wrenching turn when odds-on favorite Rebel’s Romance clipped heels in midpack, and jockey Richard Mullen was catapulted onto the turf course. The nine-year-old Channel Maker, who had been setting easy fractions on the front end, polished off a wire-to-wire victory, but all thoughts were with Mullen.
After the emergency medical team attended to him on course, Mullen was transported to Albany Medical Center. He was conscious, alert, and able to move his extremities, according to NYRA officials. Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that Mullen was placed on a backboard for the ambulance ride to the hospital.
Rebel’s Romance continued to gallop riderless until apprehended by the outrider and escorted off, apparently OK at first blush from afar. Based in Newmarket with Godolphin trainer Charlie Appleby, the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) winner was using the Bowling Green as a tightener for the Aug. 26 Sword Dancer (G1).
A Monday statement from Godolphin confirmed that Rebel’s Romance was “unhurt in the incident” while expressing support for Mullen: “Everyone at Godolphin sends their best wishes to Richard and we all hope for a swift recuperation from his injuries.”
The Bowling Green became less informative once misfortune struck. Rebel’s Romance was cruising on the bridle, settled just about midpack on the inside. Mullen shifted out a path or so down the backstretch in preparation to advance, and Rebel’s Romance crept a bit nearer in traffic on the final turn. The big Dubawi gelding then clipped heels with Tawny Port, who was attending Channel Maker through splits of :25.40, :50.85, 1:16.15, and 1:39.53 on the good inner turf.
As Mullen was thrown, the horses behind him were also affected. Soldier’s Rising was perhaps the most compromised, bumping with Rebel’s Romance and checking severely. Highest Honors and the trailing The Grey Wizard likewise had to evade the spill.
Meanwhile, the 15-1 Channel Maker had plenty left to pull away from his nearest pursuers. In happier circumstances, one could have celebrated the remarkable fact that the nine-year-old, a former Eclipse and Sovereign Award champion, won his second Bowling Green – five years after sharing the spoils in a dead-heat.
Channel Maker’s ability to capture another race of this magnitude was in doubt, after going winless since the minor Grand Couturier S. at Belmont last July. Even Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott was inclined to lower his sights to the Aug. 23 John’s Call S., and only co-owner Adam Wachtel was bold enough to go for the Bowling Green.
Reuniting with Manny Franco for the first time since October 2021, Channel Maker was urged right from the gate to establish control. The scratch of likely pace rival Strong Quality assisted his project. Channel Maker found his comfort zone, turned back the years, and drove to a two-length victory. His loyalists reaped a $32.40 payout after the English Channel gelding negotiated 1 3/8 miles in 2:15.21.
“We got a good pace scenario,” said Mott, who celebrated his 70th birthday Saturday with an Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) win by champion Elite Power. “The old man came through. He ran really well. Adam and I were debating which race to go in. There was another race later in the meet, and Adam wanted to give him a try in here, so we give him the assist for making the call to give him the shot. The pace scenario was good for him today.”
Verstappen headed Never Explain for second, leaving jockey Declan Cannon optimistic for the future.
“Lovely smooth trip, saved all the ground,” Cannon said of Verstappen’s trip. “I thought I was going to do something at the head of the lane, and he just lugged in late on me. He didn’t do anything wrong. That’s a good horse that beat me today. There’s definitely one of these races in him, so I’ll get mine in.”
Daunt, a 33-1 longshot who drew in from the also-eligible list, ran fairly evenly in fourth. Tawny Port retreated to fifth after the heel-clipping, followed by Highest Honors, Soldier Rising, and The Grey Wizard. Soldier Rising was racing for purse money only, after Equibase erroneously listed him as a scratch at one point. Rockemperor was scratched along with Strong Quality.
Owned by Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber, R. A. Hill Stable, and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Channel Maker has amassed $3,890,358 in earnings from a 54-10-6-5 record. He ranked as Canada’s champion three-year-old male of 2017, largely thanks to a score in the Breeders’ S. and runner-up effort in the Hollywood Derby (G1). Three years later, Channel Maker was voted U.S. champion turf male on the strength of wins in the 2020 Sword Dancer (G1) and Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1), as well as a third to European divas Tarnawa and Magical in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.
Channel Maker has won or placed in a total of 18 North American stakes, and he finished second in the 2021 Neom Turf Cup on Saudi Cup Day. His two Bowling Greens join a pair of Turf Classics (he’d first won the Joe Hirsch in 2018), the 2019 Man o’ War (G1), aforementioned Sword Dancer, and 2022 Elkhorn (G2) in his graded trophy cabinet.
Bred by Tall Oaks Farm in Ontario, Channel Maker is a full brother to Canadian champion Johnny Bear and a half-brother to Grade 1-placed stakes victress Court Return. They were all produced by the stakes-winning In Return, a mare by South African legend Horse Chestnut.