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Expansion Tops Wide Open Sword Dancer

Saturday’s $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga Race Course has attracted an intriguing group that includes a horse who could give his locally based trainer his first Grade 1 victory, two horses who have combined to win the last three renewals of the race, and a pair of runners who are shipping in from Southern California.


The 3-1 morning-line favorite is Expansion, who won November’s Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct in his first start for 31-year-old Mechanicville, N.Y., native Chad Brown. After placing fifth in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida at Gulfstream Park in February and fourth in the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland in April, the 5-year-old son of Maria’s Mon was third in his two most recent efforts, both Grade 1 events at Belmont Park: the 1 ¼-mile Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap on June 5 and the 1 3/8th-mile Man o’War on July 10.


Brown was initially reluctant to enter Expansion in the Sword Dancer, believing the 1 ½-mile journey over the Inner Turf Course was beyond his ideal trip.


“I don’t think a mile-and-a-half is his best distance – that’s why I was on the fence,” said Brown, who trains Expansion for Gary L. and Mary E. West. “But why go elsewhere when you can stay at home and be one of the top choices? I’ve never won a Grade 1, and winning my first at Saratoga would be a dream come true.”


Expansion will break from post position 4 with Javier Castellano aboard.


Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier, winner of the Sword Dancer in 2007 and 2008 and fifth in last year’s rendition as the 5-2 favorite, will face the 2009 Sword Dancer hero, Telling, for the third time in his career. The two have split their individual matchups as Grand Couturier was placed third in last September’s Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational after Telling was disqualified to fourth.


“He’s had more practice than most of these at the distance, and a mile-and-a-half should hit him right between the eyes,” said trainer Bobby Ribaudo. “Some would say a big field increases the chances of encountering traffic problems, but it also helps ensure we have a legitimate pace.”


Alan Garcia, who rode Grand Couturier to victory in the 2008 Sword Dancer and in two other graded events, will ride the 8-1 shot on Saturday. The 7-year-old will break from the outside in the field of 10.


Telling seeks his first victory since his 33-1 upset in last year’s Sword Dancer, but trainer Steve Hobby believes his charge is rounding into form.


“It was a stretch to think he’d win last year, but he had trained so great and we knew he wouldn’t embarrass us,” recalled Hobby. “Obviously he ran better than that, and he’s training super right now.”


This year Telling has finished fourth in a Keeneland allowance on April 9, fifth in the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs on May 22, and sixth in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park on July 3.


“His first start of the year was a needed race, and he was a little rank and got tired in his second,” said Hobby. “His last race was pretty good, but I gave Eibar Coa the wrong instructions and had him move too early. I don’t think we would have won with better timing, but maybe we would have been a little closer and would have hit the board.”


Garrett Gomez replaces Coa aboard Telling, who was installed at 6-1 on the morning line. The duo will leave from post 8.


Southern California-based trainer Neil Drysdale has entered Marlang and Marsh Side in Saturday’s feature, but it is undecided which one will start.


“They’re both on their way,” said Drysdale. “Marlang will run on a firm course, while Marsh Side will need some cut in the ground.”


Marsh Side followed his victory in the Grade 1 Northern Dancer by finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Canadian International and 17th in the Group 1 Japan Cup. After seventh-place efforts in the Grade 2 San Antonio Handicap and Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap over an artificial surface, the Robert Evans homebred set the pace and weakened late to report home fourth in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap on July 17 last time out.


“We gave him time off after Japan and tried him unsuccessfully on the synthetic at Santa Anita,” said Drysdale. “He ran well enough the other day at Arlington as he was a little fresh and got tired. He should move forward off that.”


Corey Nakatani is named to ride Marsh Side, the 4-1 second choice who drew post 9.


Apart from a victory in the 2008 Grade 3 Saranac at Saratoga, Marlang had competed exclusively at Woodbine before he was transferred to Drysdale’s barn earlier this year. In two starts for Drysdale the Gustav Schickedanz homebred finished fifth in a one-mile allowance race at Hollywood Park on June 27 and won that venue’s Grade 3 Sunset Handicap on July 18 when stretched out to 1 ½ miles.


“The horse was sent to California because he’s better on firm ground,” said Drysdale.


Marlang, tabbed at 6-1, drew the rail and will have the services of John Velazquez.


The field also includes Romp, who will make his first start for trainer Jonathan Sheppard; 2009 Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational victor Interpatation; recent optional claimer winners Al Khali and Grassy; and Bearpath, triumphant in the Grade 3 Pan America at Gulfstream in March.


The field for the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational:








Marlang (ON)

J R Velazquez


N D Drysdale



Romp (ARG)

R Maragh


J E Sheppard



Interpatation (KY)

R Albarado


R Barbara



Expansion (KY)

J Castellano


C C Brown



Al Khali (KY)

K J Desormeaux


W I Mott



Bearpath (KY)

C H Borel


I R Wilkes



Grassy (KY)

R A Dominguez


C Clement



Telling (KY)

G K Gomez


S Hobby



Marsh Side (KY)

C S Nakatani


N D Drysdale



Grand Couturier (GB)

A Garcia


R Ribaudo





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