Victory tasted so sweet that Ribaudo wanted seconds.
And so, Ribaudo planned all year long to bring Grand Couturier back to Saratoga Race Course for Saturday’s 34th running of the $500,000, Sword Dancer at a mile and a half on the turf.. His foresight and preparation were rewarded when the 5-year-old, English-bred Grand Lodge horse came through with a two-length victory over 9-year-old Better Talk Now in 2:36. He paid $9.30.
Last year, Grand Couturier ran sixth in the Turf over the soft going at Monmouth Park.
“We’re not sure about the Breeders’ Cup,” Ribaudo said. “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.”
They were certainly ready on Saturday.
Ribaudo originally wanted jockey Calvin Borel, who rode Grand Couturier in the 2007 Sword Dancer, to get the ride back. Borel, however, was unavailable and Ribaudo was more than happy to get rising star Alan Garcia, who earlier this year guided Da’ Tara to a front-running victory in the Belmont Stakes, ruining Big Brown’s bid to become racing’s 12th Triple Crown winner.
It didn’t hurt that Red Rocks, who defeated 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin in the Grade 1 Man o’War at Belmont Park last month, scratched from the Sword Dancer on Friday with a minor injury. Champs Elysees, another salty contender, also defected from the race, leaving a field of six.
With Presious Passion allowed an uncontested lead over the “good” inner turf course and the portable rail out 18 feet, Garcia was happy to save ground well behind the pace of 25.80, 50.44, 1:16.13 and 1:41.73.
Coming off the final turn, the field fanned and Grand Couturier came up through an opening on the fence. It was here that Presious Passion and jockey Eddie Castro suddenly shut the open door, and Garcia checked his mount.
But just as quickly, Garcia gathered Grand Couturier and moved to an outside hole created by the retreating Dancing Forever, whose wide bid had failed. Once clear, Grand Couturier dug in for the well-earned victory.
“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.’ Bobby (Ribaudo) did an excellent job with this horse, getting him to this race.”
Ribaudo took great pleasure that his plan to repeat in the Sword Dancer worked to perfection. Grand Couturier is now in exclusive company, joining Majesty’s Prince (1983-’84); El Senor (1989-’90) and With Anticipation (2001-’02) as the only horses to win consecutive runnings of the Sword Dancer.
“It is unbelievable! It’s a great habit to get into,” Ribaudo said. “What do we do next year? That’s what I want to know. It’s not going to be easy, but we intend to come back next year.
“Two years ago, we didn’t know him. It was a question of getting to know him, and he just wants to come from out of it. The European horses can come from out of it without a pace, as you can see here. We knew there wasn’t going to be much pace. Covering up is the best solution for horses; it makes them relax. The ride is important. If you give the right instructions and get the right rider. . . well, this was perfect. There was no question (he got in trouble in the lane), but Alan had a lot of horse and that’s what it takes. Alan is a great rider.”
Better Talk Now again showed his grit, but came up just a bit short.
“It was just a little unlucky that we had to come so wide,” said trainer H. Graham Motion. “Ramon (Dominguez, jockey) made the decision to go wide, and suddenly, it became very wide. The winner got the trip up the rail, but he was also steadied. I feel like we had a little bit of an excuse, but I can’t take anything away from the winner.”
Inerpatation ran third, three-quarters of a length behind Better Talk Now, and thrilled trainer Bobby Barbara, who will likely run him back at Philadelphia Park in the $250,000 PTHA President’s Cup on September 13.
“I think it was a really great race,” Barbara said. “At one point, I thought he was going to win it. We put him in today looking ahead for a race at Philadelphia Park. We really wanted to get this race under our belt. He ran very well.”
Presious Passion was fourth, necking Dancing Forever, and Equitable was a well-beaten sixth.