Countdown to the Cup: Battle Lines Drawn as Pegasus Flies the Coop
by Steve Haskin
Date Posted: 10/11/2000 7:22:41 PM
Last Updated: 10/12/2000 9:52:22 AM

When the smoke of battle clears on Sunday night, those still standing will pack up and head to Churchill Downs, where riches, glory, and Eclipse Awards await. Of course, we all know by now that the most feared warrior of them all, Fusaichi Pegasus, has put back his sword and armor and will fight his final fight in Kentucky.

After speaking with some speed figure gurus last week, it seems as if the trickle of blood that showed up on his foot last weekend may actually have prevented him from shedding more blood in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup. In speed figure vernacular, Fusaichi Pegasus was a prime "bounce" candidate after returning from a four-month layoff and running a "1/4" in the Jerome Handicap. Now, he will have six weeks between races instead of three, and we all saw what he's capable of when he's fresh. Immediately after the Jerome, the colt's exercise rider Andy Durnin predicted he would skip the Gold Cup and train up to the Classic.

But enough of who is not running this weekend. We have so many super battles to look forward to, including a rematch between Lemon Drop Kid and Behrens in the Gold Cup and a titanic struggle in the Beldame Stakes between Beautiful Pleasure and Riboletta, as well as rematches between Hopeful dead-heaters City Zip and Yonaguska in the Champagne Stakes, and Swaps combatants Captain Steve and Tiznow in the Goodwood Handicap.

And there is much more. We'll get to see the western whiz Kona Gold in the Ancient Title BC, the tenacious Perfect Sting in the Galaxy Stakes at Keeneland, and the hard-knocking Heritage of Gold in the Spinster Stakes.

CLASSIC: Not only do we have the Lemon Drop Kid -- Behrens match to look forward to, we have several others in the Gold Cup field who lend a touch of intrigue to the race. There are those who believe that the slow time of the Woodward and the dramatic decline in speed figures are the result of two tough horses starting to tail off. Their connections scoff at the idea and just chalk up the Woodward to one of those things. We have no answers regarding the Woodward, and there is no way to tell how much the race took out of the two horses. Lemon Drop Kid is the best older horse in the country, pure and simple, and he does what he has to win. And you know Behrens is never going to stop giving his all. But if you feel they are vulnerable, we are confident the 3-year-old Albert the Great is sitting on a huge race.

After turning in one of the best losing efforts we've seen in a long time in the Travers, "Albert" dropped back in distance to a mile, rushed to the lead after breaking a little sluggishly, then proceeded to set a blistering pace that basically equated to running 20 lengths faster than his pace in the Travers. He was under pressure the whole way, running with his head down and ears pinned, and despite a :44 1/5 half and 1:08 1/5 six furlongs, he still kept trying, finishing third behind Fusaichi Pegasus and El Corredor. A furious Nick Zito obviously has strongly advised Jorge Chavez not to repeat such tactics, and if Albert the Great can settle behind Skimming, he could be awfully tough in here.

Skimming also is interesting in that he was not entered in the Meadowlands Cup because of the weights, and was scheduled to head back home for the Goodwood. But when Fusaichi came out, Bobby Frankel changed gears once again and vowed that Skimming would be winging it in the Gold Cup. This is a grade I winner at 1 1/4 miles who didn't care for the deep track on Woodward day, and he's also lightly raced, which all adds up to another possible upset. Then there is the newly blinkered New York-bred Gander, who was breathing down the necks of Lemon Drop Kid and Behrens at the end of the Woodward, and a fascinating invader from Andre Fabre's barn in Chantilly named Agol Lack, who has shades of Arcangues written all over him. Bred for the dirt, the son of Gulch out of a Seattle Slew mare is coming off victories in group III stakes at Deauville and Maisons-Laffitte, and you can be sure Monsieur Fabre would not bring him if hadn't shown him something over the Chantilly dirt track.

Out at Santa Anita, Captain Steve, certainly one of the most improved horses in the country, takes on Tiznow again. Although The Captain, who sizzled 5 furlongs in :57 4/5 on Tuesday, defeated Tiznow fair and square in the Swaps Stakes, the full-brother to Budroyale has made tremendous strides since that race, finishing second to Skimming in the Pacific Classic and breaking the track record in the Super Derby, while destroying the Belmont winner Commendable in the process. Tiznow is not nominated to the Breeders' Cup, and by running him back in two weeks, it seems inconceivable that his connections will then come back in three weeks, put up that kind of money, and travel back across the country to run a still-lightly raced 3-year-old in the Classic. But you never know.

The Goodwood is far from a two-horse, with hard-knocking older horses Sir Bear, Big Ten, Euchre, and possibly Bagshot also pointing for the race.

DISTAFF: This can be summed up very quickly. Just sit back and enjoy what promises to be a classic showdown between Beautiful Pleasure and Riboletta, both of whom should slug it out right from the start. Talk about bounce, the main question is whether Riboletta can come anywhere near repeating her incredible race in the Ruffian. If she can, there is nothing that can touch her, that's how extraordinary a performance it was. But it is rare for any horse to repeat something so totally freaky, which just adds to the drama of the Beldame. We all know what we're going to get from the champ. Beautiful Pleasure will bust out of there and run as fast, as hard, and as far as she can. We can't wait.

Meanwhile, down at Keeneland, things should be a lot more sane for Heritage of Gold, as she takes on Spain, Ruby Surprise, the towering 3-year-old Plenty of Light, Roza Robata, and several others in the Spinster.

JUVENILE: Will Bob Baffert storm Churchill Downs with the top three choices for the Juvenile? He already has the top two in Flame Thrower and Arabian Light. And now he sends Kentucky Cup Juvenile winner Point Given to Belmont Park for the Champagne Stakes, where he will face one of the deepest, most interesting fields of the year. In addition to City Zip and Yonaguska, there's the Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Trailthefox, and a host of incredibly promising local colts, A P Valentine, Saint Verre, Griffinite, and Ommadon.

We can't even begin to imagine what's going to happen in this race. We do know that, while it's tough for lightly raced 2-year-olds to jump up and tackle proven classy stakes winners, A P Valentine may be the best horse Nick Zito ever had, especially after his awesome maiden victory; Saint Verre looks to be a colt with tremendous ability following a dazzling allowance score; Griffinite, a runaway maiden winner, looks to be following in the footsteps of his father Unbridled's Song; and Ommadon, an impressive maiden winner at Saratoga, made a huge middle move in the Futurity Stakes, and should improve big-time off that effort.

Continued: Sprint, Juvenile Fillies, Filly and Mare Turf, Turf, and Mile.

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