(from Belmont Park report)
Grand Couturier heads into the $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) at Belmont Park Sept. 13 as the morning line favorite in spite of a fifth-place finish in Saratoga's Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) last month that left trainer Robert Ribaudo a bit perplexed.
However, the 6-year-old’s attempt for a third consecutive win in the Sword Dancer Aug. 15 was not as lackluster as it seemed to the eye, Ribaudo decided.
“When we got the figures for the race, he actually ran faster than in winning in 2008,” said Ribaudo after Grand Couturier lost to Telling by 3 3/4 lengths. “That gives us some confidence that we’re not going backwards.”
Ribaudo gets a chance to find out exactly where Grand Couturier stands as he faces eight others in the 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green Handicap on the turf. The race, which will be run for the 51st time, was originally scheduled for opening day but was moved because of unsettled weather.
“The soft turf is a plus, and this race gives us the opportunity to build his confidence, build our confidence, and answer some questions,” said Ribaudo, who trains Grand Couturier for Marc Keller. “If we see a good effort then he can come back in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT on Oct. 3).”
With Alan Garcia up, Grand Couturier will carry high weight of 120 pounds and break from post 8 as the 5-2 morning-line favorite.
Also looking for an improved performance off the Sword Dancer is Todd Pletcher, who saddled the well-backed Americain to a seventh-place finish in his United States debut.
A group II winner in France, the 4-year-old son of Dynaformer was up close through a half-mile in :46.80 and three-quarters in 1:11.13 before tiring through the stretch.
“He’s been doing well since the race,” said Pletcher of Americain, who carries the colors of Wertheimer et Freres. “We hope to settle off the pace a little more this time.”
Americain, who totes 117 pounds from the rail at 6-1 on the morning line, gets a new jockey for the Bowling Green in Javier Castellano.
One who was pleased with his horse’s effort in the Sword Dancer is Ralph Nicks, whose Gentleman Chester rallied from last to finish fourth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths for it all, at odds of 26-1.
“We’re hoping to duplicate that race,” said Nicks, who trains the 5-year-old son of Chester House for John Kerber. “He’s been very happy since that race, and he’s very happy going long.”
With Hall of Famer Edgar Prado up, Gentleman Chester is 4-1 on the morning line and will break from the far outside.
Stepping up into stakes company for the first time is Gary and Mary West’s Expansion, a 4-year-old son of Maria's Mon who was an impressive winner of a 1 3/16-mile optional claimer at Saratoga on Aug. 15. Off the board just once in his past 12 starts, Expansion returned to Belmont Park following the race and has breezed twice since.
“He wants a mile and three-eighths, and he’s very much an improving horse,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who will give Cornelio Velasquez a leg up. Expansion breaks from post No. 3 at early odds of 8-1. “It’s a pretty big step up.”
Marc Sharp’s Up to No Good, makes his stakes debut after finishing no worse than third in nine starts at Presque Isle and Laurel.
Bertram Firestone’s Winchester, the winner of last year’s Secretariat (gr. IT) at Arlington Park, starts for the second time this year.
Godolphin Racing’s Irish-bred Colony looks for his first stateside win, while Dr. John Chandler’s Thabazimbi ran seventh behind Expansion last time at Saratoga. Lael Stables’ Ready Set, the 2008 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) winner, makes his second start on turf.
$150,000 Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 9, 5:15 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 3/8 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, ML Odds
1. Americain, Javier Castellano, 117, Todd Pletcher, 6/1
2. Up to No Good, Jorge Chavez, 113, Marc Sharp, 20/1
3. Expansion, Cornelio Velasquez, 114, Kiaran McLaughlin, 8/1
4. Winchester, Ramon Dominguez, 116, Christophe Clement, 5/1
5. Colony, Rajiv Maragh, 115, Saeed bin Suroor, 6/1
6. Thabazimbi, Kent Desormeaux, 113, William Mott, 8/1
7. Ready Set, Jose Lezcano, 114, Michael Matz, 15/1
8. Grand Couturier, Alan Garcia, 120, Robert Ribaudo, 5/2
9. Gentleman Chester, Edgar Prado, 116, , Ralph Nicks, 4/1