OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Time and the weather, two factors no one can control, were working against Grand Couturier and trainer Bobby Ribaudo. The year was starting to slip away with Grand Couturier still sitting in the barn at Belmont Park awaiting his season debut.
Ribaudo, needing a race for the 6-year-old multiple Grade 1 turf winner, finally found the spot: the $200,000 Monmouth Stakes on Saturday at Monmouth Park.
The second running of the 1 1/8-mile race attracted another stellar field. Last September, the inaugural Monmouth Stakes was the final race, and victory, for Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Haskell Invitational winner.
The race was repositioned this year to serve as the prep for the Grade 1 United Nations at 1 3/8 miles here on July 4.
The shift from fall to June didn't hurt at all as the race attracted a very solid lineup of nine that includes Presious Passion, last year's U.N. winner; Proudinsky, winner of the Grade 2 Mervin Muniz Memorial at Fair Grounds in 2008 and 2009; Banrock, a standout in New York-bred grass stakes; Strike a Deal, winner of the Grade 2 Red Smith Handicap at Aqueduct in November; and Kiss the Kid, winner of three stakes in the last five outings, including the Grade 3 Appleton at Gulfstream.
Grand Couturier will make his first start since finishing last in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Santa Anita in October.
The horse has been ready to run for a while. Ribaudo hoped to start him earlier this spring in an overnight stakes at Belmont. That plan washed out when the race was rained off the turf. Without that prep, Ribaudo declined to run Grand Couturier in the Manhattan Handicap on the Belmont Stakes undercard.
"We were up in the air about what we were going to do," Ribaudo said. "We didn't want to run in the Manhattan without a prep. This race just kind of popped up and it made a lot of sense.
"He needs to get started now. I was in Florida getting him ready to run, but things didn't work out there because of a lack of rain. Now here we are with an abundance of rain."
It has been a wet week on the Jersey Shore and scattered showers are forecast for Saturday, ensuring the grass course will have some give. Softer footing should help Grand Couturier, whose next target will be the Man o' War, a 1 3/8-mile Grade 1 at Belmont on July 11.
Joe Bravo, an outstanding rider on this course, gets the call.
Like Grand Couturier, Presious Passion is a grass marathoner in need of a race who prefers more ground than the Monmouth Stakes offers.
The 6-year-old Presious Passion has not run since finishing a close second in the off-the-turf Pan American Handicap on March 21.
"He's fit," trainer Mary Hartmann said. "This may not be the ideal distance, but you want to have a race before the United Nations. The timing is perfect. I'm running, even if they come off the turf. I need to get one in him."
Get Serious opts for Skip Away
Get Serious flirted with the track record while winning the one-mile Elkwood Stakes here on the turf last month.
Trainer John Forbes initially entered him in the Monmouth Stakes before reconsidering.
"That race kept getting tougher and tougher," Forbes said.
So it's back to the dirt for the $70,000 Skip Away at one mile.
Famous Patriot, beaten 6 1/2 lengths in the Grade 1 Met Mile on Memorial Day at Belmont, looks tough on the class drop.