Marc Keller's Grand Couturier had to check under Alan Garcia at the top of the lane, but re-rallied, split horses in mid-stretch, and drew clear to win the $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational (gr. IT) (VIDEO) for the second consecutive year Aug. 16 at Saratoga.
A 5-year-old English-bred son of Grand Lodge, Grand Couturier received a ground-saving trip in the 12-furlong turf event and cut the corner beautifully while chasing down pacesetter Presious Passion. But as he tried to sneak past the leader along the hedge, Grand Couturier was bumped and steadied. Garcia managed to steer his mount towards the outside, split Presious Passion and Interpatation near the sixteenth-pole, and burst to the front. He held off a late charge from 9-year-old Better Talk Now to win by two lengths. The final time over turf labeled ‘good’ was 2:32.21.
“I thought I was home free because I thought I had a lot of horse," Garcia said. "And then, the rail opened and I passed two horses. When I was right there, (Presious Passion) shut me off so fast and I had nowhere to go. I was thinking, `Oh my God, my horse lost all of his momentum,’ but after that, he kept trying, so I said, `Let me keep riding'."
Better Talk Now, last through much of the race, settled for runner-up under Ramon Dominguez. He was three-quarters of a length in front of 35-1 longshot Intepatation. Presious Passion was fourth in a field of six that included two scratches – Red Rocks and Champs Elysees.
Trained by Bobby Ribaudo, Grand Couturier was winless in two starts this season and had not hit the winner’s circle since taking last year’s Sword Dancer by three lengths under Calvin Borel. His most recent effort was a sixth-place finish in the grade I Man o’ War Stakes July 12 at Belmont, a race in which he finished behind Red Rocks, Curlin and Better Talk Now.
The consecutive Sword Dancer victories are Grand Couturier’s only graded stakes wins of his 16-start career.
Presious Passion and Eddie Castro set the pace in the marathon event. The United Nations (gr. IT) winner was able to get away with reasonable splits without being pressed, clicking off fractions off :25.80, :50.44, 1:16.13, and 1:41.73. Equitable stalked the pace, followed by Dancing Forever, Interpatation and Grand Couturier.
Grand Couturier launched his bid while leaving the quarter-pole, but was in for an eventful final furlong before handling the adversity.
“It is unbelievable. It’s a great habit to get into," Ribaudo said. "There was no question (he got in trouble in the lane), but (Garcia) had a lot of horse and that’s what it takes. Alan is a great rider.
“We’re not sure about the Breeders’ Cup. California is a little different than Monmouth. We’ll take it one race at a time. We have to get something in between. We haven’t looked that far ahead. We are certainly eligible and ready."
Going off as the third choice, Grand Couturier paid $9.30, $4.80, and $3.70. The exacta (2-6) returned $32, while the trifecta (2-6-4) was worth $337.
Bred by Tom Wilson and out of the Sadler's Wells mare Lady Elgar, Grand Couturier has now earned $860,100.
Betting favorite Dancing Forever finished fifth, followed by Equitable.