09/12/2009 11:00PM

Grand Couturier back in the win column

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Grand Couturier took a step out of Grade 1 competition and took a step back into the winner's circle Sunday by recording a last-to-first, two-length victory in Sunday's Grade 2, at Belmont Park.

It was the first win in four starts this year for Grand Couturier, who was coming out of fifth-place finishes in the Man o' War and Sword Dancer, both Grade 1 events. Grand Couturier won for the eighth time in 22 starts but the first since winning the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic last fall. Trainer Robert Ribaudo was hoping to see a performance Sunday worthy of a return trip to the Joe Hirsch to be run here on Oct 3.

"It's a relief," Ribaudo, who trains Grand Couturier for Marc Keller. "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. 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."

On Sunday, Grand Couturier, under Alan Garica was last of eight early as Up to No Good flashed runaway speed, opening up a double-digit advantage through unrealistic fractions of 22.95 seconds and 46.57 for the opening half-mile. The rest of the field quickly caught up to a tiring Up to No Good midway down the backstretch as Thabazimbi inherited the lead entering the far turn before being confronted by Winchester midway around that turn.

Winchester took over from Thabazimbi turning for home, but Grand Couturier, who was already on the move, was able to overtake Winchester inside the eighth pole en route to the win. Grand Couturier, a 6-year-old son of Grand Lodge, covered the 1 3/8 miles over yielding ground in 2:15.86 and returned $5.20 as the favorite. Winchester, who won the Grade 1 Secretariat last year, finished 7 1/4 lengths clear of Thabazimbi in third.

They were followed in the order of finish by Colony, Gentleman Chester, Americain, Ready Set, and Up to No Good.

Banrock repeats in Ashley T. Cole

The ultra-consistent Banrock rallied strongly along the rail in the stretch under Kent Desormeaux and drew clear to a two-length victory in the for New York-breds. Straight Story, who set the pace under Javier Castellano, held second by one length over Pennington.

It was the second straight year that Banrock won the Ashley T. Cole. Earlier this year, he won his second straight Kingston and West Point handicaps at Aqueduct and Saratoga, respectively. Overall, Banrock, owned by Ruth Bedford's Nyala Farm, has won 11 of 29 starts and increased his bankroll to $708,013.

"He is special," said trainer Tom Bush. "You're never nervous that he's not going to show up, you just hope that he gets a good trip and that's he's good enough that day. He always does show up, so we're never worried about that. That's what makes it so exciting when he wins - we feel like it's a reward for him, too, because trying to win is what it's all about for him."

Banrock ran 1 1/8 miles over yielding ground in 1:51.01 and returned $4.60 as the favorite. He most likely will make his next start in the $150,000 Mohawk Handicap here on Oct. 24. Banrock was beaten one length when fourth in that race last October.