08/10/2007 11:00PM

Grand Couturier outfoots English Channel

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Little had gone right for Grand Couturier since the day he arrived in North America last summer: Troubled trips in races, training over surfaces he didn't like, or running at distances that were too short for him.

But everything changed on Saturday as Calvin Borel shot Grand Couturier up the rail in the Saratoga stretch and he outkicked favored English Channel to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational by three lengths. English Channel finished second, 2 3/4 lengths ahead of Trippi's Storm. Crown Point finished fourth and was followed in the order of finish by Always First, Embossed, Fri Guy, and Ramazutti.

Grand Couturier, a 4-year-old Great Britain-bred son of Grand Lodge, was one of several European-based horses brought to North America last year by owner Marc Keller. Keller had owned horses in the 1980s, but his wife at the time wanted him to get out.

"I married a wife who thought you're supposed to keep money in a mattress, so I got out," Keller said. "She passed away 1 1/2 years ago and I'm back in."

Grand Couturier made his U.S. debut last year as a 3-year-old against older horses in the Sword Dancer, finishing third behind Go Deputy with a troubled trip. He ran one more time last year before being freshened for a 4-year-old campaign.

But Grand Couturier didn't care for the tracks in south Florida and he didn't make it to the races this year until the Fort Marcy in April at Aqueduct in which he finished third. He then finished sixth in the Bob Harding at Monmouth. Both the Fort Marcy, at 1 1/16 miles, and the Bob Harding, at one mile, are well short of his best distances.

In the Sword Dancer, Grand Couturier was last behind fractions posted as 22.66 seconds, 46.49, and 1:11.37. Borel guided Grand Couturier to the rail as the field hit the far turn and he made an explosive move up the fence in the stretch. Both Grand Couturier and English Channel, who came three wide in the stretch, tackled Trippi's Storm in midstretch, but Grand Couturier was moving better of the two. Grand Couturier, trained by Robert Ribaudo, covered the 1 1/2 miles in 2:26.59 and returned $33.20.

"He had some issues, nothing serious, but we had to deal with them," Ribaudo said. "He didn't adjust to our ways right away. Mr. Keller had a lot of patience, I had a lot of patience, and it paid off today."