<
>

Sword Dancer scouting report

Saturday, Aug. 15, Saratoga

The Low-Down: This turf marathon attracted a field of 10, including GRAND COUTURIER, the winner of the last two editions of the Sword Dancer, and BETTER TALK NOW, who took down the '04 renewal. Euro long-distance runner AMERICAIN, a recent Group 2 winner in France, makes his first start on this side of the pond for Todd Pletcher. MUSKETIER and QUIJANO exit 2-3 finishes behind last week's Grade 1 Arlington Million winner Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Man O'War.

With $11.5 million in combined earnings, this is obviously a high-class bunch. BETTER TALK NOW isn't what he used to be, but he still has some spring in those 10-year-old legs. Two-time defending champ GRAND COUTURIER is a monster over 12 furlongs on grass (5 for 9), but he didn't make a serious impact in either one of his two starts this season. AMERICAIN can run all day, and the addition of Lasix can only help the cause, but he's done some of his best work on soft ground, and there is no rain in the forecast. The multiple Group 1-winning QUIJANO showed well in his U. S. debut last out and MUSKETIER seems to be getting better with age.

Our Eyes: It seems strange to say that a horse who rallied from 20 lengths off the pace to finish second in his most recent start will be a part of the early proceedings, but that's likely the case with LAURO, who chased the runaway train Presious Passion in the Grade 1 United Nations last out. MUSKETIER is sure to take a forward position, and GENTLEMAN CHESTER and RISING MOON should find themselves in the second flight.

Horses who have run behind Gio Ponti in recent starts obviously have to be considered, and MUSKETIER and QUIJANO obviously fit well here. GRAND COUTURIER might not be the horse he was last year, LAURO's second behind Presious Passion wasn't all that impressive, BETTER TALK NOW doesn't finish with quite the same punch and AMERICAIN probably prefers a little give in the ground. Yes, I'm trying to poke holes in the likely favorites because I like a long shot in TELLING. He definitely needs to run the race of his life to win this, but he might just be ready to do just that. He won four races last year, but hasn't scored in 15 months, and today's competition is much tougher than what he's been facing. That being said, his recent fifth place run in the Grade 3 Arlington Handicap was much better than it looks on paper. He showed a different dimension in rallying from far off the pace, and finished best of all, but he was simply left with too much to do. Trainer Steve Hobby isn't one to ship half way across the country for no reason, so one could gather that he's thrilled with the way this 5-year-old has been training. Guessing we'll get at least 30-1.

The Bottom Line: Given the long shot possibilities, let's use TELLING first and second in an exacta wheel, and then play him across the aboard with progressing, heavier denominations in the place and show spots.

Horseplayer PRO Alerts - live "horses to watch" e-mailed to your inbox every morning. This service is a simulcast player's dream. For a free one-week trial, e-mail us at staff@horseplayerpro.com.

Get more handicapping picks, analysis and tools at Horseplayerpro.com!