08/16/2008 12:00AM

Grand Couturier repeats

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Robert Ribaudo credited a firm turf and a strong early pace for helping Grand Couturier win the Sword Dancer Invitational in 2007. Though neither condition was prevalent on Saturday, Grand Couturier still found a way to win the Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer again.

Receiving a ground-saving ride under Alan Garcia that at times got hairy, Grand Couturier came off the rail inside the eighth pole, split horses decisively, and outfinished the 9-year-old gelding Better Talk Now to win the Sword Dancer at Saratoga by two lengths. Better Talk Now, who won this race in 2004, held second by three-quarters of a length over Interpatation.

Since the Sword Dancer was part of the Breeders' Cup Win and You're In Challenge, Grand Couturier has earned an automatic berth into the $3 million BC Turf, to be run on Oct. 25 at Santa Anita.

Rain forced most of the races off the turf this week at Saratoga, but the course had improved to be labeled good on Saturday. While Ribaudo was fine with that, he fretted over the lack of pace. And his fears were realized as Presious Passion set fractions of 25.80 seconds, 50.44, 1:16.13, and 1:41.73 for the opening mile.

Garcia kept Grand Couturier covered up along the rail, though he had to steady through the stretch the first time and had to steady at the three-eighths pole, too. Turning for home, Garcia saw Presious Passion come off the rail, and he tried to shoot his horse through. But the opening closed quickly and Garcia had to steady and come off the rail. Grand Couturier still had some run, though, and he was able to split horses and outfinish Better Talk Now. Grand Couturier ($9.30), a 5-year-old son of Grand Lodge owned by Marc Keller, covered the 1o1/2 miles in 2:32.21.

"He shut me off so fast, I had nowhere to go,'' said Garcia, who was riding Grand Couturier for the first time.

"I was thinking 'Oh my God, my horse lost all his momentum.' But after that he kept trying so let me keep riding.''

Said Ribaudo: "When he got stopped, naturally, it was a little more of a concern. This kid doesn't panic, he reacts the way a good rider does and [Grand Couturier] was still full of run.''