Sunday’s $250,000 Bowling Green (G2) at Saratoga has attracted a well-matched field of six. Three are seeking to turn the page on losses in the Manhattan (G1) – Highland Chief and the Chad Brown duo of Rockemperor and L’Imperator – while $2.9 million-earner Arklow makes his belated seasonal reappearance. And fellow eight-year-old Cross Border is back as the two-time defending champion.
Highland Chief finished fourth in the Manhattan, just about 1 1/4 lengths behind runner-up Adhamo, who came back to take the United Nations (G1). A similar rebound could be in store for Highland Chief, with the same step up in trip from the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan to 1 3/8 miles in the Bowling Green. Indeed, the Graham Motion charge had scored his biggest career win two back in the Man o’ War (G1) at this distance.
“I thought he ran well (in the Manhattan), but it’s possible he regressed a little bit,” Motion said. “I ran him back in a month off a huge effort when he won the Man o’ War, but he ran a credible race, especially after running his best race in the Man o’ War. If we can get him back to either one of those performances, I think he’ll be very competitive on Sunday.
“I have a feeling a mile and three-eighths to a mile and a half is more in his wheelhouse. This suits him a little better.”
Rockemperor, a rallying second to Cross Border in the 2021 Bowling Green, exits a belated fifth in the Manhattan. Brown discerns improvement in his training.
“He hasn’t been able to regain his form from last fall, but he’s training really well,” Brown said of the veteran who hasn’t won since the Oct. 9 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (G1).
“He does prefer firm ground. If it’s firm, I feel like he has finally, in his works, rounded into the best form at least in the mornings that I’ve seen this year from him. He’s getting up there in age a little bit, so you always wonder if he’s tailed off some. I do really like his last two works in particular, so I’m hoping he can get back on the winning track here.”
Flavien Prat rides Rockemperor for the first time since his fifth in last November’s Hollywood Turf Cup (G2). Manny Franco picks up the mount on stablemate L’Imperator, a traffic-ridden seventh in the Manhattan after a front-running coup in the Fort Marcy (G2).
“He won on a very soft turf wire-to-wire a couple back, which is a totally new dimension for him,” Brown said. “Last time, in the Manhattan, he just really didn’t have a good trip. I’m not sure what he would’ve done ultimately, but he was sort of bottled up the whole way. I never really got to see him run, so it was hard for me to judge how he was going to run that day. He sort of ran in place. We’re going to try him at this distance, which is new for me and him to try together. We’re going to see how he handles it.”
Although L’Imperator is untested at this trip, the Holy Roman Emperor gelding figures to handle it on pedigree. He also ran well in both starts at the Spa last summer, capturing an allowance off a nearly year-long layoff and placing third in the Bernard Baruch (G2).
Arklow has not raced since his fifth in the Joe Hirsch, when trying to regain the title he won in 2019. The son of Arch has fired off the bench before, notably landing the 2021 Louisville (G3), and trainer Brad Cox has raved about how he’s coming up to his eight-year-old debut.
“He’s doing well. He had a good move here on the (Oklahoma) turf, and I’m excited about getting him back started,” Cox said, alluding to his bullet half-mile in :48.19 July 24. “He’s shown the ability to run big races off the layoff, so we’ll need him to be at his best. He certainly doesn’t look like he’s eight years old. He looks amazing.
“He’s a very sound horse,” Cox continued. “We’ve had him in training off-and-on for six years, mostly on. He’s doing great. Physically, he looks amazing. He has the capability of running big off the layoff, and we’ll see if we can get him to do it again.”
Arklow went close the last time he was seen at the Spa, beaten just a half-length in third in the 2019 Bowling Green. Now he picks up the services of Irad Ortiz Jr.
Cross Border bids for an unprecedented Bowling Green three-peat. The New York-bred is a true horse-for-the-course, with an 8-6-1-1 mark on the turf at Saratoga. Awarded the 2020 Bowling Green victory via disqualification, he was a clear-cut winner in 2021. The Mike Maker stalwart has also placed in the past two editions of the Sword Dancer (G1). Fourth in the Kingston S. versus state-breds in his latest on May 30, the English Channel gelding could be rejuvenated back at his favorite track.
Cibolian, fourth in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup (G2),is an intriguing entrant on the cutback for Rodolphe Brisset. The five-year-old was previously a much closer fourth, despite trouble, in the May 21 Louisville, and he takes the blinkers off. Note that Cibolian is cross-entered to Saturday’s Niagara S. at Woodbine.