11/09/2006 12:00AM

Grand Couturier's best would do


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Weather permitting, Saturday's Red Smith Handicap goes as the final graded turf stakes of the New York season, which explains why the race drew an overflow number of entries - even though the Knickerbocker was run just seven days earlier, after being postponed by rain and high wind on Oct. 28.

Based on company lines, it seems that the import Grand Couturier may be a lukewarm favorite. His final race in Europe was a fourth-place finish in the Grand Prix de Paris, which is significant because two of the horses in front of him were Rail Link, winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and Red Rocks, the upset winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf.

In his U.S. debut in the Sword Dancer, Grand Couturier appeared a bit headstrong, tossing his head around through the middle stages, and was taken three wide into the backstretch the final time to press the leader. After being outmoved by eventual winner Go Deputy and caught in tight between horses in upper stretch, he regrouped well enough to retake third.

Grand Couturier caught a yielding turf course - and another tough customer - in the Sky Classic at Woodbine, where he finished a well beaten fourth behind the venerable Better Talk Now, winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf in 2004, and a close second to Red Rocks last Saturday.

"He got real tired in his last race over yielding turf at Woodbine," said Grand Couturier's trainer, Bobby Ribaudo. "He's going through an adjustment period. "He's got a big future ahead of him, and from [ages] 4 to 6, I think he'll be the real deal."

Already, the 3-year-old Grand Couturier's best race is good enough to win the Red Smith. But should he produce anything less, the three-turn stakes figures to be hotly contested through the late stages by several veterans, including 2004 winner Dreadnaught, and Rousing Victory, the runner-up in last year's running.

Dreadnaught, third in last year's Red Smith, is winless this year but narrowly missed in the Fourstardave, losing to favored Ashkal Way, who came right back to win the Kelso at Belmont. Most recently Dreadnaught was too close to the pace, chasing English Channel's rabbit Icy Atlantic in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.

"He's been in and out all year," said trainer Tom Voss, who also saddles Red Smith contender Always First. "We scoped him after the Turf Classic and found an abscess in his epiglottis, so we sent him to the New Bolton clinic and had it lasered off."

Big A closer bias turns up horses to watch

While the gold rail was in play at Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup, there was also a bias in effect at Aqueduct last weekend. But instead of an inside bias, the Big A's main track was strongly tilted in favor of outside stalkers and closers.

In Saturday's three dirt stakes, the winners of the Turnback the Alarm, Sport Page and First Flight handicaps all rallied from last or next-to-last.

Miss Shop, lightly regarded at 9-1, trailed for the first six furlongs of the Turnback the Alarm, rallied three wide, and made the last move to nail Dina - who had taken over from Teammate with a three-wide move into midstretch. Teammate set a controlled pace in the 1o1/8-mile race while along the inside, but faded to fourth.

"Teammate stumbled at the start, but got to the front in easy fractions, so I thought she'd gallop from there," said her trainer, Allen Jerkens, who also trains Miss Shop.

In the seven-furlong Sport Page, Silver Wagon and Sir Greeley rallied wide from next-to-last and last. Silver Wagon, the third choice, inhaled 7-5 favorite Afrashad once straightened away into the lane; Sir Greeley stumbled badly at the start and was 15 lengths behind Afrashad in a half-mile fraction of 44.38 seconds, but made up all of that deficit to get second in the final strides.

Carmandia, dismissed at nearly 10-1 in the First Flight, had only one horse beaten midway on the far turn, but rallied four wide and flew past the leaders on the far outside in deep stretch. Under the circumstances, Win McCool ran a huge race, arguing the early pace with Great Intentions and still managing to nose out Swap Fliparoo for the runner-up spot.

Sunday brought more of the same. Both divisions of the New York Stallion Stakes went to deep closers, Baxter and Laurentide Ice, who trailed in their fields after the opening quarter mile. Earlier, Meadow Mirage made her second lifetime start, and first since last January, and came from dead last to win and pay $20. My Angel Dancer, last at the stretch call, wound up missing second by a mere half-length.

In addition to Afrashad, Great Intentions, Win McCool, and Teammate, horses that raced against the bias last weekend include Golden Trieste, What a Boot, Skipper Tale, Bluff's Missile, Son of Sabato, Crosstown Traffic, and Mister Supremo.