10/23/2008 11:00PM

Grand Couturier healthy - and showing it


ARCADIA, Calif. - By any measure, Grand Couturier ran the race of his life when he won the Grade 1 Turf Classic by more than 10 lengths at Belmont Park last month.

The beauty of that victory, his second Gradeo1 win this year, remains on the mind of trainer Robert Ribaudo in advance of Grand Couturier's start in the Saturday's $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita.

"Everybody talks about him bouncing or coming off too big of an effort," Ribaudo said. "He hasn't shown us any signs of it."

Ribaudo and owner Marc Keller need Grand Couturier at his best in the BC Turf. At stake is a chance for a third consecutive Grade 1 race and the title of champion turf horse of 2008.

There is no margin for error in an 11-horse Breeders' Cup Turf field that includes Soldier of Fortune, the 2007 Irish Derby winner and third-place finisher in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris earlier this year; Winchester, the winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes earlier this year; and 2008 Grade 1 winners Dancing Forever, Red Rocks, and Conduit.

The victory in the Turf Classic marked the first time that Grand Couturier had won consecutive stakes in his career. Ribaudo credits good health.

"He's coming off the best race of his life," Ribaudo said. "His soundness has been better this year. He's always had little issues that he's dealt with. He seems to be handling things much better. He's able to train every day and be happy with it."

Grand Couturier, 5, won the Turf Classic on a yielding turf course and the Grade 1 Sword Dancer on a good turf course in August. In 2007, Grand Couturier won the Sword Dancer on a firm turf course, conditions that will be prevalent on an expected warm day at Santa Anita on Saturday.

Some of the runners will favor a firm turf course more than others.

Trainer Aidan O'Brien, for one, feels that Soldier of Fortune can be effective on firm turf. The likely favorite on Saturday, Soldier of Fortune has made just three starts this year, winning the Group 1 Coronation Cup at Epsom on June 6 and finishing a game second, beaten a half-length, to Youmzain in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in Paris on June 29. Youmzain later finished second in the Arc de Triomphe.

"We've always thought the world of this horse," O'Brien said of Soldier of Fortune. "There is the perception that he's a soft-ground horse because he won in the Irish Derby on soft ground, but he's a good-moving horse.

"He'll get a mile and a half well. He had a nice summer break."

Soldier of Fortune is not the only O'Brien-trained runner in the field. Red Rock Canyon, a maiden after 17 races, has been entered to set the pace. He had the same role in the Arc de Triomphe, leading until early stretch before fading to finish last of 16.

"He's in there to make sure there's a consistent, even gallop," O'Brien said.

A bet on Red Rock Canyon would be ridiculous. A bet on Dancing Forever would not. Even though he finished seventh, 36 3/4 lengths behind Grand Couturier in the Turf Classic, Dancing Forever can be a factor in the BC Turf. Trained by Shug McGaughey, Dancing Forever won the Grade 1 Manhattan Handicap over 1o1/4 miles on turf at Belmont Park on June 7, finishing a nose in front of BC Turf contender Out of Control.

"In the spring, I thought he was the best distance grass horse in the country," McGaughey said. "We got a heck of a lot of rain in the week before the Turf Classic. I made a mistake. I shouldn't have run."

Dancing Forever worked five furlongs on turf at Santa Anita last weekend, which gave McGaughey confidence in the 5-year-old's chances.

"I think he deserves a chance on a hard turf," he said. "He's a true mile-and-a-half horse. I was very anxious to get him here and get a work on the turf. I'm encouraged so far."