Grand Couturier gets his first win of the year in the Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park.<br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Grand Couturier gets his first win of the year in the Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park.
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Coglianese Photos

Grand Couturier Back in Form in Bowling Green

Multiple grade I victor looks like old self in posting his first win of the year.

Favored Grand Couturier got the soft going he appreciates and a solid pace to chase, helping him to his first win of the year in the $158,500 Bowling Green Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) at Belmont Park Sept. 13.

The multiple grade I winner ended a streak of three consecutive fifth-place finishes this season with a two-length victory over Winchester in the 1 3/8-mile Bowling Green, which was contested over a "yielding" inner turf course.

Trained by Robert Ribaudo for owner Marc Keller, the 6-year-old Grand Couturier earned his first win since taking Belmont's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational (gr. IT) over similar footing by more than 10 lengths nearly a year ago.

“It’s a relief," said Ribaudo, who is looking at a possible run in the Turf Classic Oct. 3 for Grand Couturier's next start. "How good the race was, or not, we’ll try to get a better look at it. The horse was aggressive down the backside, which he hadn’t been in his last few races. These are things you want to see.

"If he did go in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, it’s going to be a lot tougher and he’s going to have to step up off this," Ribaudo added. "As nice as this was, it’s the next step he has to get to in order to be where he was this time last year. But, we’re going in the right direction. Before the race, we didn’t know. He was always doing well, it’s not like he changed – it was a good vote of confidence for all of us.”

With Alan Garcia aboard, Grand Couturier dropped out to last in the eight-horse field as Up to No Good sprinted away from the field, opening a 12-length advantage by the time they had gone a half-mile while posting suicidal early fractions of :22.95 and :46.57. After completing six furlongs in 1:13.42, Up to No Good came back to the field quickly, with the stalking Thabazimbi taking a short lead into the final turn.

Thabazimbi, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, led to the top of the stretch before Winchester, bidding at the quarter pole, took over under Ramon Dominguez. Winchester led to mid-stretch but had little response when Grand Couturier challenged him on the outside. Grand Couturier, who had advanced to fourth with three furlongs to run, charged four wide off the turn to grab the lead and edged away under moderate urging from Garcia. The winning time was 2:15.86.

“My horse was a little rough by the three-eighths pole, but he was ready to run when it came time to go," Garcia said. "I was waiting, waiting, and turning for home my horse decided to take off and he was much the best today.”

Winchester, turning in his best effort since capturing Arlington Park's Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) in his American debut in June 2008, settled for second, 7 1/4 lengths in front of Thabazimbi.

There was concern about whether Grand Couturier had lost his edge after he finished fifth in Saratoga's 12-furlong Sword Dancer (gr. IT) in his last start, a race he had won twice previously. In getting back to the winner's circle, the Great Britain-bred son of Grand Lodge won for the eighth time in 22 starts and boosted his career earnings to $1,351,200. The winning purse for the Bowling Green was $95,100.

Tom Wilson bred Grand Couturier. The bay horse is out of Lady Elgar, bu Sadler's Wells.

The winner carried top weight of 120 pounds and paid $5.20, $3.10, and $2.20. Winchester, now in Christophe Clement's barn, returned $4.40 and $3.20. Thabazimbi, a son of Empire Maker  trained by Bill Mott, was $5.20 to show.

Colony rallied mildy for fourth, followed by Gentleman Chester, second choice Americain , Ready Set and Up to No Good. Expansion scratched.