A day of upsets at Saratoga was punctuated by the most shocking surprise of all in the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) (VIDEO), as the 33-1 longshot Telling took over approaching the top of the stretch and held off Better Talk Now for his first stakes win.
A 5-year-old son of A.P. Indy, Telling had been graded stakes placed three times entering the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer, but was making his first start in grade I company and had been winless in his last 10 starts. The bay horse had been off the board in his last two starts, including the July 11 Arlington Handicap (gr. IIIT) when finishing fifth. This was his Saratoga debut.
Under the handling of Javier Castellano, Telling tucked along the inside racing mid-pack in a field of 10 through the backstretch while German-bred frontrunners Lauro and Musketier dueled through suicidal early fractions. Lauro pulled Jorge Chavez through splits of :23.48, :46.80, :1:11.13, and a 1:36.02 mile, with Musketier right on his heels. Americain was also close up, as was Quijano.
Musketier briefly took over as they came out of the final turn and was the first to hit the straightaway under Jono Jones. Quijano was right there with the leader, but those two had no chance at stopping Telling, who rolled right on by approaching the eighth-pole from a four-wide position. Telling opened up a clear lead in upper-stretch and was only slightly threatened by 10-year-old Better Talk Now’s late bid. Telling hit the wire two lengths in front while covering 12 furlongs in 2:25.43 on the ‘firm’ turf.
Better Talk Now, the Sword Dancer victor in 2004, was a length better than third-place Brass Hat, who also came from off the pace. Gentleman Chester was fourth. Grand Couturier, the 5-2 favorite and two-time defending Sword Dancer titleholder, flattened out in the stretch to finish fifth.
Telling, who had hit the board in two of his three previous tries at 12 furlongs, obviously relished the distance as well as the quick, early pace.
"I had the perfect trip; I saved all the ground in the race," said Castellano, who rode Telling for the first time. "I squeezed in between the two horses and when I asked him he kicked in, and opened by two. He finished very good; a lot of power, strong. I’m very surprised at the way he ran a mile and a half and didn’t get tired."
Owned by Alex and JoAnn Lieblong, and trained by Steve Hobby, Telling’s last win came in allowance company back in May of 2008 at Arlington Park, a victory that came in his turf debut. Prior to that, the then 4-year-old had reeled off three consecutive wins on the Oaklawn Park dirt.
Bred in Kentucky by Darley and out of the Deputy Minister mare Well Chosen, Telling is now 5-4-4 from 17 starts with earnings of $484,406.
“The owner picked it out," said Hobby, referring to Alex Lieblong's decision to run in the Sword Dancer. Based at Oaklawn, it was the 53-year-old Hobby's first grade I win. "We (entered) a small stake in Chicago (at Arlington Park), and we scratched to run in this. We figured it was the time to try now.
"For me, it’s a great thrill. This is my first time in Saratoga. He was training so well, and he really moves up in the mile and a half. We figured if he can’t do it now, he’ll never do it.”
The winner paid $68, $28, and $13.40. The exacta (7-4) returned $645, the trifecta (7-4-9) $9,045, and the superfecta (7-4-9-2) a whopping $79,640.
Better Talk Now, making the 51st start of his remarkable career, ran a big race as the runner-up.
"I thought we had a really good shot to get there," said trainer Graham Motion. "He had to come a little wide, but I thought he ran a huge race. It's tough to get beat by a 33-1 shot. He's still right there. I think (the fast pace) helped us. I think that was good for us. He made a good run. I'm thrilled, but I would have loved to win it. He ran a big race."
Quijano was sixth, followed by Americain, Rising Moon, Musketier, and Lauro.
No favorite won at Saratoga all day until the 11th and final race.