Millionaire 7-year-old Grand Couturier has not been a factor in four starts this season, but his connections are hoping he will return to form in a race he won a year ago, the $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) on Sept. 11 at Belmont Park.
The 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green is the headliner on opening day of the 37-day Belmont fall meet and will go to post at 5:15 p.m. EDT. A field of 11 was assembled, including grade I winners Winchester and Interpatation, as well as Dry Martini and Al Khali.
Marc Keller’s Grand Couturier is a three-time grade I winner, including the 2008 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational over the same Belmont turf course. Last year as a 6-year-old, he won only once but concluded his season by taking the Bowling Green by two lengths under Alan Garcia as the favorite. He has been off the board in all of his tries in 2010, including a sixth-place finish in the Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) last out on Aug. 14 at Saratoga.
Garcia will have the mount once again for trainer Bob Ribaudo. They will break from post 2.
Grand Couturier, by Grand Lodge and out of the Sadler’s Wells mare Lady Elgar, is 8-1-6 from 28 lifetime starts with earnings of $1,449,701. He was bred England by Tom Wilson.
Also coming out of the Sword Dancer are the third- and fourth-place finishers, Al Khali and Interpatation .
Al Khali was beaten 2 3/4 lengths in the 12-furlong contest after taking the lead into the stretch. The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro ridgling won an optional claimer on the Belmont grass in July as a prep for that race, his only win in four starts this year. Julien Leparoux will have the mount for Bill Mott.
“We thought he might be one who could get the trip,” said Mott of the decision to try Al Khali at 1 1/2 miles. “It looks like that last furlong might have stretched him out a little, but a mile and three eighths might be in his range.”
Elliot Mavorah’s Interpatation ran a solid fourth in the Sword Dancer but still has just one win in his last 23 starts and has not hit the board in four starts this year. That win was a big one, however, as the Robert Barbara trainee pulled a 43-1 shocker in the 2009 Turf Classic for his biggest payday. The 8-year-old Langfuhr gelding will be ridden by Channing Hill this time.
Winchester exits out of a third-place finish in the United Nations Stakes (gr. IT) on July 3 at Monmouth, where he was beaten two lengths. The son of Theatrical has been in good form all year, as he won an allowance race on the Keeneland turf and scored at odds of 21-1 in the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) June 5 at Belmont.
Also a winner of the grade I Secretariat Stakes in 2008 as a 3-year-old, Winchester was runner-up to Grand Couturier in last year’s Bowling Green. Ramon Dominguez will be in the irons for Christophe Clement.
“He’s had the summer off, but he’s ready to go,” said Clement.
Dry Martini will be making only his fifth start on turf while seeking his first victory. A four-time graded stakes winner on dirt and an earner of more than $1.3 million, the 7-year-old gelding did run twice on Belmont’s turf in 2008, with a second-place finish in the Strawberry Burrah Stakes to show for his efforts. Most recently, he was seventh in the John’s Call Stakes Aug. 6 on the Saratoga grass.
“It looked like he liked (the turf) all right,” said trainer Barcaly Tagg. “He’s a pretty classy horse. I wouldn’t run him against Gio Ponti or Get Stormy; the turf division is never easy – but running him on grass might help him last longer, keep him happy, and he might enjoy it. It’s a very forgiving surface.”
$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
1. Simmard (KY), J R Velazquez, 115, R L Attfield
2. Grand Couturier (GB), A Garcia, 117, R Ribaudo
3. Al Khali (KY), J R Leparoux, 116, W I Mott
4. Strike a Deal (KY), R A Dominguez, 117, A E Goldberg
5. Winchester (VA), C H Velasquez, 119, C Clement
6. Gabriel's Hill (KY), E Coa, 113, S Benzel
7. Dry Martini (FL), E S Prado, 115, B Tagg
8. Southwest (VA), J Castellano, 113, R Jenkins
9. Interpatation (KY), C Hill, 116, R Barbara
10. Followmyfootsteps (KY), R Maragh, 113, T H Voss
11. Jeune-Turc (BRZ), J Lezcano, 116, P H Lobo