08/09/2006 11:00PM

Go Deputy's chances improve

Relaxed Gesture is back for another shot after finishing second in last year's Sword Dancer.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Had English Channel remained here for the Sword Dancer Invitational on Saturday, Go Deputy likely would have been sent to Chicago by trainer Todd Pletcher for the Arlington Million, where he would have been a decided longshot. But with the Pletcher-trained English Channel, as well as Cacique, headed to Chicago, Go Deputy got to stay home. And instead of being an outsider, he will loom as one of the leading contenders in the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer.

The Sword Dancer drew a field of eight, including , the runner-up in this race last year. It also attracted Wild Desert, who mostly has raced on dirt, turf specialist Silverfoot, and the 3-year-old Grand Couturier, who arrived just days ago from France.

will be seeking his first victory in a Grade 1 race in the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer, and while he has never beaten horses of this caliber, he never has been in better form. Go Deputy, 6, raced just nine times before this year. But Saturday's start will be his seventh of the year, which - along with his victory in last month's Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park - indicates he is thriving.

"He had some issues along the way, but he's the healthiest and soundest he's ever been, and he's in the best form of his career this year," Pletcher said at his barn on Thursday morning.

Go Deputy has finished in the money in seven straight races. He was able to overcome a soft pace to capture the Bowling Green, which at 1 3/8 miles is a furlong shorter than the Sword Dancer.

The pace figures to be livelier in the Sword Dancer. Pletcher will be sending out Ramazutti, who does his best running up front. He was second to Silverfoot in the Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs on May 29.

"Ramazutti is most effective going to the front," Pletcher said. "We're going to let him do his thing. He will be on the front end."

Like Cacique and English Channel, Relaxed Gesture could have gone to the Arlington Million. But trainer Christophe Clement thought the Sword Dancer was the best fit.

"It is a half-mile from his stall, and it is an invitational, so it doesn't cost my owner anything," Clement said.

Relaxed Gesture was third to English Channel and Cacique in the United Nations Stakes at Monmouth in his last start, and prior to that was second to Cacique in the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont. King's Drama outfinished him in a stretch-long duel in last year's Sword Dancer.

was fourth, one length behind Relaxed Gesture, in the United Nations. His late run should be aided by the expected early speed of Ramazutti.

"It's always nice for him to have pace," said Dallas Stewart, who trains Silverfoot.

Silverfoot ran poorly in both his previous starts at Saratoga, however. He was seventh of eight in last year's Sword Dancer.

Grand Couturier, trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, is the race's mystery horse. He is proven at the distance, having won a listed stakes race in France at 1 1/2 miles, and he was fourth last time out in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on July 14. But he will be facing older horses for the first time. A compact, attractive bay colt, Grand Couturier looked to have acclimated well when seen in his stall on Thursday morning.

"On the racetrack this morning, he looked great," said Bobby Ribaudo, who will take over as the trainer of Grand Couturier following this race. "We're doing everything Jean-Claude Rouget said to do. We're not changing his shoes, and he's not running on Lasix."

The field

Sword Dancer Invitational
Purse: $500,000, 1 1/2 miles, turf; Grade 1

1Silver WhistleM. Smith11610-1
2Relaxed GestureK. Desormeaux1208-5
3SilverfootF. Jara1166-1
4Go DeputyE. Coa1183-1
5RamazuttiJ. Santos11615-1
6Wild DesertR. Bejarano11610-1
7Grand CouturierR. Migliore1154-1
8Crown PointJ. Castellano11620-1

* Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: Saturday; 4-6 p.m. Eastern; ABC