Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

The Sword Dancer Invitational: Up For Grabs

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 12, 2010

The August 14th Sword Dancer Invitational is being billed as one of the most wide open turf spectacles of the season. Even with 5 graded stakes winners in the field no one single candidate stands out above the others. The 7-year-old

veteran Grand Couturier won the Sword Dancer two consecutive years from 2007-2008 but has gone winless in 3 starts this year after turning in sub-par performances. His last win came in the Bowling Green Handicap (gr.2) at Belmont Park on September 13th when he defeated Winchester by two lengths. He may not be the most consistent runner in the field but when he gets his game right he can produce explosive results. I’ll be rooting for him to win.

Telling enters the Sword Dancer as the 2009 defending champ after taking last year’s edition at odds of 33-1. Much like Grand Couturier, Telling is winless in three 2010 starts, failing to hit the board in all three efforts. I don’t think he’s going to present much of a challenge in this spot Saturday, but being a Grade 1 winner always commands a certain amount of respect and attention.

Winless in three starts for the year seems to be a theme for runners in this year’s edition of the Sword Dancer as Grade 1 winner Marsh Side has also failed to win his three starts so far this year. His form however looks much better than most and in his last race he finished a close up 4th in the Arlington Handicap (gr.3). The 7-year-old athlete looks like the best choice in the field if he can move forward off his Arlington Handicap performance.

Marlang comes from the same training barn as Marsh Side and looks to be one of the pacesetters in the Sword Dancer. He enters off a front-running victory in the Sunset Handicap (gr. 3) in mid July. He was winless in 2009 but won two consecutive graded stakes in 2008, one of which included the Breeders’ Stakes, the third jewel in Canada’s Triple Crown series.

Expansion could be entering the Sword Dancer with the best form of all and certainly the most consistent form. He last finished third to Gio Ponti in the Man ‘O’ War Stakes (gr.1), beaten less than a length for the win. Before the Man ‘O’ War he came in third in the Manhattan Handicap (gr.1) 1 ½ lengths behind the winner. He could produce a mild upset here and finally get the kind of performance that would launch him into the spot light.

Interpatation will forever be known as the horse that cut Gio Ponti’s incredible streak of grade 1 races short at four with

a 43-1 upset victory in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr.1). The Hirsch Turf Classic is his only win in his last 22 starts. He doesn’t win often but when he does he makes it count. His last win before the Hirsch came in the 2005 Palm Beach Stakes (gr.3). He isn’t overly consistent and his erratic performances make it hard to determine when he’s going to run well or toss in a clunker. I’m tossing him here, hopefully it doesn’t come back to bite me.

Al Khali, Romp, Grassy and Bearpath complete the field. Of those four, Grassy and Al Khali look to be closest to be the best long shots with any chance to hit the board.

In other news reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra turned in a spectacular workout on Monday over Saratoga’s Oklahoma training track surface in preparation for an expected start in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign on August 29th. It will be the 4-year-old filly’s first start at the distance of 1 ¼ miles.

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5 Responses to “The Sword Dancer Invitational: Up For Grabs”

  1. Steve M. said

    Brian,
    This is absolutely one of my favorite races of the year. Grand Couturier is a great past champion, but he seems to be out of form and maybe soft turf will help. Expansion has hit the board in last two G1s and is a logical favorite. But as you said, this is wide open so I might take a shot with a long shot. Grassy at 10-1 looks very appealing. Very good jockey and trainer and looks to have some upside. Not sure what happened in the Dixie, maybe he just had a bad day. If Grassy goes off at 10-1 or higher, seems definitely worth a play.

    • Hey Steve,
      I agree, Grassy looks looks like a nice long-shot and he won his only start at 10 furlongs so he could like the added distance in the Sword Dancer. As far as favorites go with past graded staked experience I think Expansion and March Side have the best form. Marlang enters off a win but I don’t think he’ll be able to sustain his front-running ways against the amount of closers entered here.
      Do you know what the weather forecast is for Saratoga on Saturday? If it comes up yielding or soft I think Grand Couturier has a great chance.

  2. […] One of my favorite turf races of the year is the $500K Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga.  Brian Appleton wrote a nice preview of the Sword Dancer on his Rail Runner blog.  Check it out here: […]

  3. Brian,

    Nice pre-race post. As you identified, TELLING’s G.1 experience, moreso his winning experience at Saratoga, and a contested pace for the distance were the 10-1 winner’s major angles. INTERPATATION actually did in my selection, AL KHALI, who was forced to move too soon because of Lezcano’s urging on the turn.

    I have no doubt that if RACHEL is right, she will handle the distance. She won the Preakness which is just a 1/16th shorter. AL KHALI, a son of MEDAGLIA D’ORO, showed he’s a 10f horse at most and that seems to be RACHEL’s outer limit as well.

    • Thanks Rob,

      I didn’t expect him to win this one again, but it seems to be the only race he can win!
      Are you going to see Rachel at the Spa when she runs in the Personal Ensign?

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