08/10/2006 12:00AM

Keller back with Grand Couturier

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Nearly two decades after leaving the Thoroughbred business, owner Marc Keller is back. He would like nothing more than to announce his return in Saturday's Grade 1, $500,000 Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga when he starts the 3-year-old Great Britain-bred Grand Couturier.

Grand Couturier, a son of Grand Lodge, has won four of six starts in Europe, including the Bordeaux Derby in France in May. Last month, Grand Couturier finished fourth, beaten 2 1/4 lengths by Rail Link, in the Grand Prix de Paris, a Group 1.

Keller initially bought Grand Couturier with the idea of running him in the Belmont Stakes. But when he learned the horse wasn't Triple Crown nominated and it would cost $100,000 to supplement to the race, he decided to keep him in France for one more start.

The defection of English Channel to the Arlington Million leaves Relaxed Gesture as the lone Grade 1 winner in the Sword Dancer field. Keller believes the 1 1/2 miles of the Sword Dancer is ideal for Grand Couturier.

"He's a nice colt," Keller said. "He will be closing a little bit. If the trip helps him, I think he'll be a factor. If he does run well, we'll look at other mile-and-a-half races."

As a 3-year-old, Grand Couturier will be in receipt of five pounds from Relaxed Gesture.

Keller, an investment advisor based in Manhattan, owned horses from 1976-88 with trainer Harry Brice. His biggest win came in 1983 when Qualique, a 35-1 shot, upset 2-5 favorite Lucky Lucky Lucky in the Grade 1 Demoiselle at Aqueduct.

Keller, who said he left the game because it had become too time-consuming, has brought several horses from Europe and turned them over to trainer Robert Ribaudo, whom Keller used following the death of Brice. Jean-Claude Rouget will be listed as Grand Couturier's trainer on Saturday, but the horse will be turned over to Ribaudo after the race.

Sanders aims for juvenile stakes

After coming within a neck of upsetting Scat Daddy in the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes with the maiden Teuflesberg, trainer Jamie Sanders is looking forward to a rematch when those two colts meet next in the Grade 1 Hopeful on Sept. 4.

After guiding Teuflesberg through a four-furlong work in 48.42 seconds Thursday morning, Sanders confirmed that the Hopeful, run at seven furlongs, will be Teuflesberg's next assignment.

"He came out of his last race just unbelievable," said Sanders, the former assistant and exerciser rider for trainer Nick Zito. "He may even be better now than he was going into it. We don't think he has to be on the front end. The past two starts he has been. He'll rate, too.

"That's kind of what we wanted to see today, go off a little bit easy and pick it up each eighth and finish."

Sanders said next Thursday's Saratoga Special was too close back for Teuflesberg. Besides, Sanders plans to run Fast N Ready in the Special. Fast N Ready won a maiden $75,000 claiming race by 7 3/4 lengths here on July 31.

"Him being a May foal, he's always been playful, but he finally got it together the other day," Sanders said of Fast N Ready. "We snuck one in. We always had a ton of confidence in him."

Sanders is also getting Pro Pink ready for the Grade 1 Spinaway on Sept. 3. Pro Pink won her debut against fillies at Keeneland in April and then finished second to Datrick in the Grade 3 Kentucky Breeders' Cup for males on May 4. Sanders breezed Pro Pink in 50.51 seconds on the turf on Thursday.

Sanders said she worked Pro Pink on turf because "she wants to go too fast on dirt. She'd go in 46 if you let her."

Funny Cide may go in Woodward

With limited options and with his locally based owners eager to see their horse perform at Saratoga, Funny Cide could run in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes here on Sept. 2, trainer Barclay Tagg said.

Funny Cide has not run since winning the Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine on July 1. He was initially being targeted for the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park, but surface problems at that track combined with unsatisfactory bloodwork on Funny Cide forced the cancellation of those plans plans.

Funny Cide's bloodwork has improved and he has been training regularly, including a five-furlong move in 1:00.62 last Sunday. Tagg said if the Woodward field doesn't come up too tough, he would take a shot in the $500,000 race.

"If it comes up light we'll go in it, if it doesn't we'll skip it," Tagg said. "It looks like some are dropping out."

Invasor, the Whitney winner, is skipping the Woodward for the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 7.

Whether or not he runs in the Woodward, one race that could be on Funny Cide's schedule this fall is the $500,000 Hawthorne Gold Cup on Sept. 30. That race is run at 1 1/4 miles, a distance that Funny Cide relishes.

* Commentator, working towards a start in the Grade 1 Forego on Sept. 2, breezed four furlongs in 48.26 seconds Thursday morning over the Oklahoma training track.

* Lemons Forever, the Kentucky Oaks winner, breezed four furlongs in 1:01.27 Thursday morning over the training track in preparation for a start in next Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama.

* The New York Racing Association Board of Trustees approved a 36-day racing schedule for Saratoga next summer, from July 25-Sept. 3.