05/07/2009 12:00AM

Grand Couturier may finally get his start


ELMONT, N.Y. - When it comes to Grand Couturier, trainer Robert Ribaudo can't seem to catch a break this year.

In the winter, at Gulfstream, it never rained, creating a rock-hard turf course that Grand Couturier doesn't like. In New York this last week, it seems like it has never stopped raining, forcing the last eight scheduled turf races to be run on the main track.

If it stops raining in time to use the turf course on Friday, then Grand Couturier will make his 6-year-old debut in the $65,000 Three Coins Up Stakes, scheduled for 1 1/4 miles over Belmont Park's inner turf course. The Three Coins Up serves as a stepping-stone to the Grade 1 Manhattan, to be run here on June 6.

Grand Couturier is a multiple Grade 1 winner, having taken the Sword Dancer at Saratoga the last two years and the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational last September. Grand Couturier won the Hirsch by 10 1/4 lengths over yielding Belmont turf.

Though Grand Couturier hasn't run since last fall, Ribaudo doesn't believe fitness is an issue. He had the horse ready to run at Gulfstream but backed off when the turf course came up so hard.

If Friday's race is washed off the turf, Ribaudo said Grand Couturier would not run. Further, he said he wouldn't train Grand Couturier up to the Manhattan.

"The Man o' War and the Sword Dancer are the two main goals," Ribaudo said. "Just because he's ready, you'd think about this race."

Ribaudo said he would like to see Grand Couturier run like he did last year when he returned in a similar spot and was beaten less than a length by Distorted Reality.

"If I can get anything like that, he could get there or not get there, as long as he's running at the end," Ribaudo said.

Mission Approved, who will be making his first start since finishing seventh in the West Point last Aug. 10, returns in this spot. He is a multiple Grade 3 winner and won the listed Princeton Stakes over good Meadowlands turf in 2007. He could play out as the main speed on the turf. His trainer, Gary Contessa, said Mission Approved would run on turf or dirt.

If on dirt, Contessa will also run Even Raise, a winner of 13 of 20 starts, including 5 of 7 on off tracks. On dirt, the horse to beat would be Dry Martini, who has competed in mostly graded company the last year.