Sword Dancer Top Two Rematch in Joe Hirsch

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Gufo (inside) edges Japan in Sword DancerSarah Andrew

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The first two across the line in a thrilling renewal of this summer's GI Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer S. will face off once more in a seven-horse renewal of the GI Joe Hirsch Turf Classic S. over 1 1/2 miles on the Belmont turf Saturday.

Otter Bend Stables' Gufo (Declaration of War) has yet to be out of the trifecta in 12 career outings and picked up stakes scores in the GI Belmont Derby Invitational S., GIII Kent S. and English Channel S. last year as a sophomore to go with a head second in the GI Saratoga Derby Invitational S. and a neck third in the GI Hollywood Derby. Returning over this course May 8 in the GI Man O' War S., the chestnut was flying late, but just missed by a nose, then in the GI Resorts World Casino Manhattan S. here June 5, ducked out sharply in midstretch before checking in third. Back on track in the course-and-distance Grand Couturier S. July 5, he got his overdue Grade I success when getting the jump on Japan (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) and just holding that rival off by a neck in the Sword Dancer.

That effort signaled a return to top form for Coolmore and Masaaki Matsushima's Japan, who made a name for himself as a 3-year-old in Europe with triumphs in the G1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris and G1 Juddmonte International S. and a solid fourth in the G1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. He failed to build on that campaign at four, however, going winless in five starts and closing out his season with a ninth in the G1 QIPCO Champion S. Back on track somewhat with a pair of Group 3 successes earlier this year, he had to alter course under Ryan Moore at the eighth pole in the Sword Dancer as Gufo beat him to the spot, likely costing him the victory.

The ageless Channel Maker (English Channel) will attempt to become the first horse to win three editions of the Joe Hirsch, which has been run since 1977. Going wire to wire over soft turf to dominate the 2018 Hirsch by 4 1/2 lengths, the now 7-year-old gelding was a narrow and game second to re-opposing Arklow (Arch) in 2019, and made every yard in last year's renewal after taking that summer's Sword Dancer as well. A good third in the GI Longines Breeders' Cup Turf before completing the exacta in the Neom Turf Cup S. on the Saudi Cup undercard Feb. 20, he'll look to bounce back after finishing off the board in his last three starts, most recently backing up to sixth when defending his Sword Dancer crown.

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