February 20, 2024

Gufo adds blinkers for Grand Couturier; First Captain makes stakes debut in Dwyer

Gufo wins the Belmont Derby Invitational (NYRA/Coglianese Photos/Chelsea Durand)

Grand Couturier S. — Race 6 (3:34 p.m. ET)

After uncorking rallies that came too late in a pair of stakes earlier in the Belmont Park meet, the hope is the addition of blinkers will help Gufo stay more in touch early in Monday’s $150,000 Grand Couturier S.

Hero of last fall’s Belmont Derby (G1), Gufo has tended to concede far more ground than usual in two starts this term. That resulted in a nose loss in the May 8 Man o’ War (G1) over 1 3/8 miles and a larger four-length deficit at the finish of the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan (G1) on June 5. The Grand Couturier, at 1 1/2 miles, will be the longest race so far in Gufo’s career.

“He’s always way, way out of it and we’re just trying to get him closer,” trainer Christophe Clement said. “He’s not going to be on the pace, but it would be great to have him not too far out of it.”

An ostensible prep for races like the Bowling Green (G2) and Sword Dancer (G1) at Saratoga, the Grand Couturier has attracted a solid field. Red Knight, a four-time winner over the Belmont turf, exits a second-place finish to Arklow in the Louisville (G3) at Churchill Downs, while Moon Over Miami was only a neck behind Gufo when last seen in the Man o’ War.

Division mainstay Sadler’s Joy will look to snap a losing skid that dates to November 2019, while Argentine import Fantasioso looks to build on his recent runner-up finish in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup (G2). Tide of the Sea has positional speed and can last for a share or more with a return to his Gulfstream form from last winter.

Dwyer S. (G3) — Race 8 (4:40 p.m. ET)

First Captain, who captured his first two outings during the spring for trainer Shug McGaughey, will get his first serious class test in the $250,000 Dwyer S. (G3) over one mile.

A $1.5 million yearling purchase by Curlin, First Captain won on debut by three-quarters of a length over next-out scorer Mahaamel in a seven-furlong maiden at Belmont in late April and followed up the next month in a track-and-distance allowance by a length.

Only four others were entered in the Dwyer, and who ultimately shows up remains fluid. Gershwin, who captured the off-the-turf Penn Mile (G3) in late May, will be re-routed to the Dwyer if the July 3 Kent (G3) at Delaware Park remains on the turf. The Brad Cox-trained Snow House, an allowance winner at Churchill last time, is a definite after being scratched from the July 2 Iowa Derby (G3). Recent Parx allowance winner Ridin With Biden was cross-entered in Sunday’s Manila S. at Belmont, which was scheduled for the turf.