Sadler’s Joy hadn’t been beaten far in his three prior attempts in the Bowling Green Stakes (G2), and the 8-5 favorite was finally getting his head in front in Saturday’s $250,000 renewal at Saratoga. But in the process, the 7-year-old veteran came in and caused a chain reaction of interference that could not withstand scrutiny by the stewards. His taste of victory was fleeting as he was demoted to fourth, and Cross Border was awarded his first graded laurel.
Trained by Mike Maker for Three Diamonds Farm, Cross Border was wheeling back just 10 days after romping over New York-breds in the Lubash. The son of English Channel has competed well at the graded level this season, finishing a neck second in the Jan. 25 W.L. McKnight (G3) and beaten all of a length when fifth in the July 4 Manhattan (G1), and he didn’t flinch here.
Stablemate Marzo opened up a five-length lead through leisurely splits of :25.30 and :50.38 on the firm inner turf. His nearest pursuers, Dot Matrix and Channel Maker, gradually closed the gap as the leader clocked 1:15.68 and 1:40.04. Although the pace was lifting, Cross Border and Sadler’s Joy were also advancing to reach contention in upper stretch.
Marzo continued in front until inside the final furlong, when the closers overhauled him. Channel Maker loomed, Sadler’s Joy was barreling wide and fast, and Cross Border was in the fray between them.
The fray moved from figurative to literal. Sadler’s Joy drifted in under right-handed urging from Javier Castellano, barging into Cross Border who was knocked off stride and in turn knocked Channel Maker for a loop. The equine pinball Channel Maker might have been third-best at the instant, but once losing his action, he never regrouped, and the race was over for him. Late-running Highland Sky, unaffected by the fracas, was along to snatch third from Channel Maker.
Cross Border did regain his balance for Jose Ortiz and fought on resiliently while Sadler’s Joy maintained a neck margin at the wire. The final time for the 1 3/8-mile test was 2:14.77, but it was clear that the stewards would have to take a look at the eventful stretch run. Objections were also lodged by both Maker and Ortiz, and the longer the review took, the more a change was in the air.
Castellano pleaded his case unsuccessfully.
“You could see I hit the hole when it opened and I saw the (other) horse, but I never came over,” the Hall of Famer contended. “We were all on the same line and I think the inside horses was involved a little bit and we all ended up caught in an overreaction. Of course, that put everyone under pressure and they were going to blame the horse on the outside (Sadler’s Joy). It was a decision for the stewards.”
Aside from deciding to disqualify Sadler’s Joy, the stewards had to determine where to place him. Since the hampered Channel Maker came home fourth, Sadler’s Joy was moved down to fourth. Cross Border was officially placed first, Highland Sky elevated to second, and Channel Maker compensated in third.
Marzo, just a neck off Channel Maker, remained fifth. Dot Matrix, who was probing for room on the inside when the concertina happened, steadied and dropped back to last of the six. The degree of his misfortune was presumably murkier for the stewards.
Cross Border, now 5-for-5 at the Spa, has compiled an overall mark of 26-9-5-1, $534,471. Bred in the Empire State by Berkshire Stud and B.D. Gibbs, he first sold for $180,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. But he didn’t pan out as a pinhook prospect, and Woodbine trainer Robert Tiller got him as a $10,000 bargain at OBS June in 2016.
After plying his trade on Polytrack and turf north of the border, and winning twice at the $40,000 optional claiming level in 2018, Cross Border was offered at that summer’s Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Horses of Racing Age Sale. Three Diamonds Farm secured him for $100,000, but he didn’t make his debut for Maker for a year.
Cross Border made rapid progress once returning to action last summer. A three-race winning streak gave him a chance at the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (G1), where he wasn’t disgraced in fifth, and he was sixth in the Dec. 14 Ft. Lauderdale (G2). His graded sorties were interspersed with fine allowance efforts, including a second to Chad Brown’s Value Proposition over a mile on June 3 at Belmont.
“This is just a gutsy New York-bred and its good for the game that they can breed a New York-bred that can win a Grade 2 at Saratoga,” Three Diamonds Farm owner Kirk Wycoff said. “We love the Bowling Green. We were second in it three years ago with Bigger Picture. It was a calculated risk to come back in 10 days and we weren’t all in agreement, but Mike Maker made the decision and obviously it was the right one.”
Cross Border is peaking with maturity, typical for sire English Channel. The 6-year-old ridgling is out of the unraced Empire Maker mare Empress Josephine, who is a half to 2002 Arkansas Derby (G2) scorer Private Emblem and multiple stakes vixen Rhum, herself the dam of Grade 2-winning sprinters Gantry and Central Banker.