02/18/2009 1:00AM

Hard turf alters Grand Couturier's plans


HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - With barely a drop of rain having fallen in south Florida for months, the weather in the area this winter has been perfect for just about everybody, except golf course superintendents and Bob Ribaudo, who trains the multiple Grade 1 winner Grand Couturier.

Ribaudo had been gearing up Grand Couturier to launch his 2009 campaign in Saturday's $150,000 Mac Diarmida at 1 3/8 miles on the turf. But with the grass course rock hard due to a lack of rain, Ribaudo has decided to cancel those plans and look for an alternative later in the session, assuming he can get a little help from Mother Nature.

"He didn't like the hard course at Santa Anita on Breeders' Cup Day, so there's no sense doing anything stupid here and try him over the same type of surface again," Ribaudo said at his barn Wednesday morning, just hours before the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida was to be drawn.

Grand Couturier, a 6-year-old son of Grand Lodge, won both the Grade 1 Sword Dancer and the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic over less-than-firm courses at Saratoga and Belmont Park before finishing 11th in the Breeders' Cup Turf. Grand Couturier started just five times in 2008 and did not make his season's debut until mid-June.

"We've never really been in this position before, having him ready this early in the year, so it won't be a big deal if we don't get to run before we leave," Ribaudo said. "If he doesn't start here, we'll do our normal routine - bring him back to New York and try to have him peaking in the late summer and fall when all the big-money races come up on the grass. The main reason I was hoping to run him in Florida was the fact he's been invited to Dubai, and I wouldn't even consider taking him all the way over there if I can't get a race under his belt first."

Short of doing a rain dance or sneaking into the building late one night and turning on the sprinklers like Crash Davis in the movie "Bull Durham," there is little Ribaudo can do now but sit back and hope the weather changes for the worse.

"It's nobody's fault," Ribaudo said. "It's not like I don't see the sprinklers going on the turf course. It's just that it's been so windy and so dry, watering the course under those conditions really doesn't do any good. What we need is a couple of days of rain and cloudy weather."

Presious Passion tops Mac Diarmida

Despite the defection of Grand Couturier, the Mac Diarmida still came up strong with a full field of 12, led by Grade 1 winner Presious Passion and recent Grade 1 Donn runner-up Finallymadeit.

"I can understand why they don't want to run Grand Couturier the way this course is right now," said Mary Hartman, who trains Presious Passion. "He's a soft-turf guy. That's his specialty. Mine is just the opposite. He loves it hard. He ran well over a hard course at Calder and again in his last start at Santa Anita. I know I probably won't run Presious Passion again if I know the turf will be yielding. We tried that last year a couple of times, and it just didn't work out."

Along with Presious Passion and Finallymadeit, the field for the Mac Diarmida comprises Silver Mountain, Spice Route, Summer Patriot, Quasicobra, Always First, Slambino, Imawildandcrazyguy, Baltimore Bob, Mr. Sidney, and Phil the Power.

Smooth Air to Gulfstream Handicap

Trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. said Smooth Air came out of his second-place finish Feb. 7 in the Tallahassee Stakes on turf in good order but will return to the main track for his next start, the one-mile Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 14. The Tallahassee was Smooth Air's first outing since finishing seventh in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"I was very pleased with his last performance," Stutts said. "The race set up for an off-the-pace horse. I have no complaints with the ride. My horse put away the speed and looked like he had the race won until the last couple of jumps."

Stutts also confirmed that owner Brian Burns has declined an invitation for Smooth Air to compete in the Dubai World Cup.

"I thought Brian made the wise decision," Stutts said. "He's said all along for this horse to have any value as a stallion he needs to win a Grade 1 somewhere, and by making that long trip to Dubai it would take a few starts out of him. Right now, our plans are more or less to head to New York later this spring and try the Met Mile."

* A couple of mares coming off graded stakes wins who are nominated to Sunday's $100,000 The Very One were on the Palm Meadows work tab Wednesday morning. Criticism, winner of the Grade 3 Long Island Handicap in her 2008 finale, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.40 over the main track, while Lady Carlock, upset winner of the Grade 3 Marshua's River here earlier this month, went the same distance in 1:01.80 on the turf.