Legendary, War Correspondent Took Different Paths to Longines Dixie

BALTIMORE, MD., 05/14/15– Legendary and War Correspondent have arrived at the 114th Longines Dixie Stakes following similar but different paths.

Both started their careers in Europe and have found success since being imported to the U.S. last year. Late Saturday afternoon, they will be part of an overflow field of 14 runners entered in the 1 1/8-mile Dixie, which precedes the running of the 140th Preakness Stakes.

Legendary, a 6-year-old gelding, has been a pleasant surprise for owner Walter Swinburn, the retired standout British jockey, and his U.S-based trainer Niall Saville. He has picked up two stakes wins, including the Grade 3 Knickerbocker. He was fourth in his first start of 2015, the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland. He will start from post No. 8 with Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado.

Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Farm purchased a minority interest in War Correspondent this week from Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. The 5-year-old horse will start a long way from the rail in the Dixie, drawing post No.13 with Hall of Famer John Velazquez. He has emerged as a serious stakes horse in the U.S. and won the Appleton Stakes (G3) at Keeneland in his last start.

The field includes Aripeka, who was second in the Maker’s 46 Mile; Long on Value, the Bill Mott-trained 4-year-old who won the Canadian Turf Stakes at Gulfstream Park before running third, a head behind Aripeka in the Maker’s 46; Tampa Bay Stakes (G3) winner Lochte; Grand Tito, runner-up in the Miami Mile (G3) and the Canadian Turf; and Up With the Birds, the beaten favorite last year.

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners acquired War Correspondent from breeder-owner Joseph Allen after the horse had returned from France and won his first start at Monmouth Park. He is a full brother to Declaration of War, a stallion who stands for $50,000 in Kentucky.

 “We bought him then and he remained in the care of Christophe Clement, who has done a masterful job with the colt, said Aron Wellman, president of Eclipse Thoroughbreds. “We have managed him very conservatively, but have taken our shots. We were heartbroken when we sent him up to Woodbine for the Grade 2 Autumn Stakes and he just got beat by a short neck. But we knew we had a graded stakes-caliber individual right there and then.”

War Correspondent was pointed to a race at Tampa Bay Downs this winter, but it was oversubcribed and he did not have enough turf earnings to make the field. Clement and the owners instead tried the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap.

“He ran a dynamite race while losing a lot of ground around the far turn,” Wellman said. “He ended up third, losing to Mshawish. He was beaten about a length that day and gave up about five lengths in the ground loss.”

On March 28 at Gulfstream, he won the Appleton, edging Aripeka by a neck, giving him a graded-stakes win to go with two graded stakes placings. Eclipse scrapped a plan to enter the Woodford Reserve on the Kentucky Derby program because jockey John Velazquez was committed to ride another horse.

“We decided to pull back and point toward the Dixie,” Wellman said, “knowing that we’d have Johnny and hopefully if the weather cooperates the conditions will be ideal for it.”

In the past couple of years, Swinburn and Saville have develop a partnership to find lower-profile European horses they feel can be successful in North American racing. The experiment with Legendary has paid off nicely. He has won four of eight starts, two of them stakes.

“I just think he likes the configuration of these tracks,” Saville said. “They are straightforward, two-turn races here, whereas in England they are either straight races or undulating tracks. His best days were on the all-weather tracks over there that are more like our tracks. That’s been a big thing for him. And he’s just sort of grown up. He’s just been a late horse to mature.”

Saville, 32, is based at Fair Hill Training Center. The exercise rider-turned-trainer has about a dozen horses in his care. Legendary is one of four runners that he has handled in his venture with Swinburn. They brought him along slowly last year before trying him in stakes. He won the Japan Racing at Laurel in September and the Knickerbocker (G3) at Belmont Park in October.

“He exceeded expectations,” Saville said. “We liked him when Mr. Swinburn put him up as a possible horse to come out here. I agreed that I thought he would be better here. It was only when I was done breezing him at Keeneland last year that I realized how nice he was. He really has developed into a really nice horse.”

In the Red Smith Handicap (G3) at Aqueduct in November he was up on the early but slow pace, a reversal of his normal style, and finished fifth. In his first start this year he was competitive, finishing fourth in the Maker’s 46.

“The last at Keeneland, the Grade 1, I thought he ran superb,” Saville said. “He’s really never disappointed.”

The field also includes Ironicus, Cage Fighter, Tricky Hat, Skyring, Beyond Smart, Manchurian High and Talk Show Man.