09/13/2009 12:00AM

Winchester liable to improve

Four-Footed Fotos
Trainer Christophe Clement thinks Winchester will enjoy the longer distance of Sunday's Bowling Green Handicap.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Grand Couturier isn't the only Grade 1 winner seeking a return to form in Sunday's Grade 2, $150,000 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park.

Winchester, who made a big splash in his North American debut 13 months ago winning the Grade 1 Secretariat at Arlington Park by 7 1/4 lengths, makes just his second start of this year in the Bowling Green, carded at 1 3/8 miles over the outer turf course. The Bowling Green, which tops a 10-race card that also includes the Ashley T. Cole for New York-breds, was originally scheduled for Friday, but was not carded by the racing office due to rains that eventually forced the cancellation of all four of Friday's turf races.

After winning the Secretariat last year, Winchester, then trained by Dermot Weld, was in too deep in both the Breeders' Cup Turf (seventh) and the Hollywood Turf Cup (sixth). In late December, he was turned over to trainer Christophe Clement, who had him in south Florida for the winter. Clement said the horse had changes going on with his legs and needed extra time before he could train. Winchester didn't return to the races until Aug. 1, when he finished sixth, beaten six lengths in a 1 1/16-mile second-level allowance race at Saratoga.

"It was a bit too short for him," Clement said. "He came out of it in good order and has been working well since. He just started to run in the stretch. Without a doubt I think the race moved him up.''

Clement also said he believes the additional distance and likelihood of soft ground will move Winchester up as well. Winchester breaks from post 4 under Ramon Dominguez.

"I think he'll enjoy the mile and three-eighths," Clement said. "I think he'll enjoy soft [ground]. I don't know about the graded stakes. He always acted like a nice horse.''

Grand Couturier, a three-time Grade 1 winner, has fared no better than fifth in three stakes tries this year. Trainer Robert Ribaudo is hoping to use this race as a stepping-stone to the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic on Oct. 3.

"We're still confident that he's capable,'' said Ribaudo, whose horse will break from post 8 under Alan Garcia and 120 pounds.

Grand Couturier and Winchester would benefit from a lively pace, though they may not get it. Americain was part of a three-ply speed battle in the Sword Dancer and he backed up to finish seventh. Trainer Todd Pletcher was anticipating taking Americain off the pace on Sunday, but may want to re-evaluate those plans given the apparent lack of pace in here. He breaks from the rail.