SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Owner Alex Lieblong spoke in the Saratoga Race Course winner’s circle about how as a teen he had been a calf roper and rodeo clown, but on Saturday only he and the rest of the connections to Telling were laughing after the horse came out of nowhere to win the 35th Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational.

Despite placing in three Grade 3 races at Midwestern tracks in his 16-race career, Telling, a Darley-bred 5-year-old bay son of A.P. Indy, had never won a stakes race before. Yet in the Sword Dancer, he closed hard into a fast pace, and as the longest shot in the field of 10 defeated some of the top turf marathoners in training, including two-time race winner Grand Couturier, 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Better Talk Now, and two-time European Group 1 winner Quijano.

“We knew we were in tough. We didn’t think we were over our heads,” said Lieblong, who lives on a farm in Conway, Ark., 30 miles outside Little Rock.

Ridden by jockey Javier Castellano and trained at Arlington Park in Chicago by veteran Steve Hobby, Telling ran the 1½-mile Sword Dancer in 2:25.43 on a course labeled firm before a crowd of 29,287. At odds of 33-1, Telling paid $68 for a $2 win ticket and led a superfecta that paid $79,644.

Better Talk Now, bidding to become the first horse in history to win a North American Grade 1 race at age 10, finished strongly to place second, two lengths behind the winner. Another old-timer, 8-year-old Brass Hat, came in third. Grand Couturier, the 2.90-to-1 favorite, rallied at the eighth pole but flattened out and finished fifth.

Telling was initially being pointed toward a small stakes race called the Rossi Gold at Arlington Park before Hobby called The New York Racing Association, Inc.’s stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes and asked for an invitation to the Sword Dancer.

Hobby, 53, a resident of Hot Springs, Ark., had never won a Grade 1 race before Saturday. His most famous runner was the grizzled, old sprinter Chindi, who earned more than $1 million racing until the age of 12. He finished second in the Oaklawn Park standings behind Steve Asmussen with 26 winners in 2008.

Clearly, the Sword Dancer was the biggest win ever for Telling’s connections. The victory set off a wild celebration in the winner’s circle that spilled out onto the track.

“The owner picked it out,” Hobby said of the Sword Dancer. “We had him in a small stakes in Chicago, and we scratched to run in this. He trained better than he ever had in his life. I figured it was the time to try now.”

When the gate opened, Lauro came out fast and was soon engaged in a duel by Musketier and Americain. The trio ran through a fast half-mile in 46.80 seconds and a mile in 1:36.02.

Telling, along with Quijano, ran along close up behind the first flight with a wide gap to Rising Moon and even a greater one to the deep closers.

When the field reached the far turn for the second time, Rising Moon moved into contention, while Telling briefly dropped back to seventh along the rail. On the turn for home, the leaders were finished and Castellano found a seam between Rising Moon and Quijano and shot to the lead under strong urging. Jockey Ramon Dominguez desperately tried to reach him with Better Talk Now.

“He broke sharp, and I covered up,” Castellano said. “I covered all the way in the race and tried to wait for one kick. I knew the best two horses in the race always come from behind. I just wanted to make the right move to get the job done. I had the perfect trip; I saved all the ground in the race.”

Telling has now won five times in 17 starts. The $300,000 first-place money for the Sword Dancer boosted his lifetime earnings to $484,406.

Trainer H. Graham Motion said he was happy with the run of Better Talk Now, who hasn’t won a race since the Grade 1 Manhattan in 2007 but continues to place in top company.

“I thought we had a really good shot to get there,” Motion said. “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.”

Bobby Ribaudo, who trains Grand Couturier, said, “He was beaten a head and a neck for third, so it was hardly a disgrace. It was tremendous being in the position to try for a third straight victory in this race.”

Lieblong said he had never been to Saratoga before, and he had a flight out of town Saturday night.

“After this,” he said, “I don’t know if I’m going to make it.”