08/12/2010 3:07PM

Expansion can highlight Brown's meet

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Expansion wins the Red Smith at Aqueduct in November 2009.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. –Even as the Saratoga meet reaches the halfway point here on Saturday, trainer Chad Brown has already had a summer to remember. With 11 wins from his first 26 starters, the native of nearby Mechanicville finds himself contending for leading trainer honors.

Perhaps the only thing that could make things better would be if Brown were able to win a Grade 1 race, something he has yet to accomplish in his brief training career. Brown’s best chance to achieve that goal comes Saturday when he sends out Expansion as the 3-1 morning-line favorite in a wide-open renewal of the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at 1 1/2 miles on turf. The field includes last year’s Sword Dancer winner, Telling, and the 2007-08 winner, Grand Couturier.

“If I won my first Grade 1 at Saratoga that would make the whole meet,” Brown, 31, said. “But you know what? Up to this point we’ve been lucky, things have been going good, so I can’t complain no matter what happens Saturday.”

Brown has been high on Expansion for the last two months. After getting buried on the rail when fourth in the Grade 2 Elkhorn at Keeneland in April, Expansion seemed to flourish when he came to Belmont Park, Brown said. Despite facing a deep field of Grade 1 winners in the Grade 1 Manhattan in June, Brown liked Expansion’s chances. Expansion had a wide trip, finishing third, beaten 1 1/2 lengths.

“Probably the best race of his life,” Brown said. “If he can get me that same race on Saturday he’d be very tough.”

In the paceless Man o’ War at Belmont in July, Expansion was beaten three-quarters of a length by Gio Ponti. There appears to be more pace in the Sword Dancer with the likes of Marlang and Al Khali in the field. Interpatation, who will now be ridden by Jose Lezcano after the meet-ending injury suffered by Robby Albarado, should also be forwardly placed.

“I’m happy the way the race sets up, it looks like there’s more pace in the race than the previous race, so I’ll take the extra eighth of a mile with that pace,” Brown said.

Bearpath finished 1 1/4 lengths behind Expansion when finishing fourth in the Man o’ War. Earlier in the year, Bearpath took the Grade 3 Pan American at Gulfstream racing up close to a dawdling pace. Ian Wilkes, the trainer of Bearpath, believes his horse is versatile enough to adjust to any pace scenario, something he will certainly tell new jockey Calvin Borel.

“His strength is if they go slow he can be close, if they go fast he can be back,” Wilkes said.

The Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale has not run a horse at Saratoga in eight years. He has shipped both Marlang and Marsh Side cross-country for the Sword Dancer. Marlang, who won the Saranac here in 2008 when with Deborah England, would be more effective on firm ground. Marsh Side could handle both. Drysdale felt Marsh Side was compromised by being on the lead in his last start.

When Al Khali won the Saranac here last year he looked like a horse who wanted to run all day. His lone try at 1 1/2 miles came in last year’s Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, a race run over a boggy turf course where he finished fifth. Al Khali comes into the Sword Dancer off a confidence-building third-level allowance wins at Belmont a month ago.

“If we get firm ground this will be a true test,” trainer Bill Mott said. “I’m not convinced he’ll get a mile and a half, but you’d almost have to try it on better ground than he tried the first time.”

Grand Couturier starts in the Sword Dancer for the fifth consecutive year. He could benefit from post 10. Telling seeks his first win since taking last year’s Sword Dancer at 33-1.

Romp, Interpatation, and Grassy complete the field.