Despite the return of the two horses that have won the race the last three years, the 2010 edition of the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) lacks a true standout. That was made possible after the defection of probable favorite Take the Points, who was forced to miss the race with an ankle injury.
That leaves an evenly-matched field of 10 to square off in the 1 1/2-mile turf race at Saratoga Aug. 14. Last year’s 33-1 upset winner, Telling, has not found the winner’s circle in five tries since, and 2007-08 victor, Grand Couturier, has been in poor form this season. As a result, dual grade I winner Marsh Side, recent grade III winner Marlang, and 3-1 morning-line favorite Expansion—grade I placed in his last two starts—are three major contenders to take home top prize.
Alex and JoAnn Lieblong’s Telling took over rounding the turn and drew off to win by two lengths in the 2009 Sword Dancer, which is the only stakes win of the 6-year-old’s career. This year, the son of A.P. Indy is winless in three starts without hitting the board in any of them. The Steve Hobby trainee was sixth last out in the United Nations (gr. IT) July 3 at Monmouth Park. Top rider Garrett Gomez has the mount for the first time.
Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier is a three-time grade I winner, but has placed in only two of his last 10 starts. One of those was a victory in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) on a yielding Belmont turf last fall. The 7-year-old son of Grand Lodge has not been a factor in three starts in 2010. Alan Garcia will ride for trainer Bobby Ribaudo.
“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 Ribaudo. “Some would say a big field increases the chances of encountering traffic problems, but it also helps ensure we have a legitimate pace.”
Though Robert Evans’ Marsh Side in also winless in three starts this season. he ran a solid race last out in the Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) July 17, giving indication he may be ready to fire a big effort in the Sword Dancer. Based in California for trainer Neil Drysdale, the 7-year-old Gone West horse will make his Saratoga debut in his 29th start. An earner of more than $2.2 million, Marsh Side’s biggest wins have come in the Pattison Canadian International in 2008 and Northern Dancer Turf the following year—both grade I events at Woodbine at this distance.
Jockey Corey Nakatani will ride Marsh Side, who had his final tune-up Aug. 8 at Hollywood Park, clocking seven furlongs in 1:25 3/5.
“He ran well enough the other day at Arlington as he was a little fresh and got tired," Drysdale said. "He should move forward off that.”
Drysdale will also send out a second West Coast shipper with Gustav Schickedanz’s Marlang, winner of the Sunset Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Hollywood July 18. The wire-to-wire victory was the first for the 5-year-old Langfuhr horse since taking the Breeders' Stakes—the third jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown—and the Saranac (gr. IIIT) in consecutive starts in 2008. John Velazquez will likely be on the front end with Marlang, who will break from the inside post.
“They’re both on their way,” Drysdale added of his duo. “Marlang will run on a firm course, while Marsh Side will need some cut in the ground.”
Despite being winless in four starts this season, Gary and Mary West’s Expansion has been close to breaking through in his last two starts. He missed by 1 1/2 lengths when third in the June 5 Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) and then was beaten less than a length when third to champion Gio Ponti in the July 10 Man o’ War (gr. IT)—both at Belmont. In his 2009 finale as a 4-year-old, Expansion won the Red Smith Handicap (gr. IIT) at Aqueduct in his stakes debut. Javier Castellano will ride for Chad Brown.
“I don’t think a mile-and-a-half is his best distance, that’s why I was on the fence,” said Brown. “But why go elsewhere when you can stay at home and be one of the top choices? I’ve never won a grade I, and winning my first at Saratoga would be a dream come true.”
The other grade I winner in the field is Interpatation, who pulled a 43-1 shocker in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) last fall at Belmont for his only win in his last 22 starts.
Grassy won as the odds-on choice in an optional claimer July 2 at Belmont while going 10 furlongs for the first time. Beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by Take the Points last year in the Jamaica Handicap (gr. IIT), the Chirstophe Clement trainee could relish the stretch out under jockey Ramon Dominguez.
$500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT, Race 10, 5:48 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Marlang (ON), J R Velazquez, 116, N D Drysdale
2. Romp (ARG), R Maragh, 116, J E Sheppard
3. Interpatation (KY), R Albarado, 120, R Barbara
4. Expansion (KY), J Castellano, 118, C C Brown
5. Al Khali (KY), K J Desormeaux, 116, W I Mott
6. Bearpath (KY), C H Borel, 116, I R Wilkes
7. Grassy (KY), R A Dominguez, 116, C Clement
8. Telling (KY), G K Gomez, 120, S Hobby
9. Marsh Side (KY), C S Nakatani, 120, N D Drysdale
10. Grand Couturier (GB), A Garcia, 118, R Ribaudo