06/18/2009 12:00AM

Grand Couturier's main goal still Sword Dancer


ELMONT, N.Y. - The Monmouth Stakes was only a first step for Grand Couturier.

There are much bigger goals in sight for the 6-year-old Grand Couturier, including a bid for a rare Grade 1 hat trick at Saratoga: three consecutive wins in the Sword Dancer Stakes.

"To do that three years in a row would be tremendous," trainer Bobby Ribaudo said.

In that context, a rallying fifth in the Monmouth Stakes last weekend was a solid foundation.

In his first start since the Breeders' Cup, Grand Couturier spotted the front-running Presious Passion as many as 15 lengths before trimming the deficit to 2 1/2 at the wire.

Not bad, considering the layoff and the fact the 1 1/8 miles is too short for Grand Couturier.

"He seems no worse for the wear," Ribaudo said. "He bounced right back after cooling out. We were pleased with that."

Ribaudo was also pleased with the way the comeback unfolded.

"I didn't see a tremendous rush at the end but I think for a mile-and-a-half horse going a mile-and-an eighth, everything worked out great," Ribaudo said. "That race has got to do him a lot of good."

Because of weather and circumstances, Ribaudo had fallen behind schedule with Grand Couturier. The summer was in danger of slipping away and the horse needed a race. Lacking an option in New York, Ribaudo targeted the Monmouth Stakes as the comeback spot.

It will get tougher from here.

Ribaudo has now circled the Grade 1 Man o' War, 1 3/8 miles here on July 11 as the next step leading to Saratoga.

"He probably needs one more to be at his best," Ribaudo said. "The Sword Dancer is the main objective and this is the way we're going to get to it."

It would be a fourth straight appearance for Grand Couturier in the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer on Aug. 15. He ran third in the stakes at 3 in his U.S. debut before posting decisive wins in the last two runnings.

"Just to be in it four straight years would be nice," Ribaudo said. "To be able to win it again would be great."

Next target uncertain for Banrock

Banrock fared better in the Monmouth Stakes, closing with a furious rush. To the naked eye, nothing separated Banrock and Presious Passion as they hit the wire together. Kent Desormeaux, Banrock's rider, was convinced he had won.

Except the photo went the other way, giving Presious Passion the nod, by a nose.

Still, it was a tremendous effort by the New York-bred Banrock, who showed he could compete with high-quality turf runners in open company.

Banrock has been a dominant force in New York-bred grass stakes. After the Monmouth Stakes, trainer Tom Bush has a world of fresh options for the 6-year-old gelding.

"I'm tickled to death that he ran as well as he did," Bush said. "I have figure out where he'll run next. I haven't thought about it too much because I was just trying to get by this race. We had a hard time finding a race for him and I was worried that this one was too deep for him. Now I got to sink my teeth into the decision on the next one."

Justenuffhumor may try Oceanport

Justenuffhumor improved to 4 for 4 on the turf, digging in to capture a third-level allowance Wednesday.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin credited the gate crew for their handling of the colt.

"He is a knucklehead and we were really pleased by the gate crew, and we thank them," McLaughlin said.

Now it's time for 4-year-old Justenuffhumor to step up and take a stakes swing.

McLaughlin is looking at the Grade 3 Oceanport Stakes on Aug. 2 at Monmouth Park as a possible target.

* Jockey Maylan Studart sustained a broken left leg in a Thursday morning Belmont barn accident. She will be sidelined indefinitely following surgery.