Countdown to the Cup (Cont.)

The Chief Hits the Classic Trail

Allen Jerkens, known by many simply as The Chief, may finally have unlocked the talent that has for the most part remained hidden inside Puzzlement for the past couple of years. The son of Pine Bluff, who broke open the Saratoga Breeders' Cup, winning by 3 1/2 lengths, was considered by Jerkens to be a legitimate Belmont Stakes threat, but the colt was injured a few days before the race.

With an impressive allowance victory; a fast-closing fourth in the Whitney, in which he was beaten only 2 1/2 lengths by Medaglia d'Oro; and his clear-cut Saratoga Breeders' Cup victory over Volponi, Puzzlement should be an interesting addition to the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup. But the Breeders' Cup is at Santa Anita this year, and Jerkens has vivid recollections of Sky Beauty and Devil His Due finishing out of the money in their respective Breeders''Cup races at Santa Anita in 1993.

As for Volponi, he has been running hard all summer, and going 1 1/4 miles over this deep track may have been too much for him after a very hard race in the Whitney only two weeks earlier. We thought he might wait for the Woodward after, but trainer P.G. Johnson felt this was a better spot, and he wouldn't have to face Mineshaft again. Volponi has now had four hard races in the past two months against top-class horses in major stakes. He ran sharp races in the first three, but never showed that same sharpness in the Sararoga Breeders' Cup, and appeared a bit rubber-legged in the stretch, as he was giving nine pounds to the winner. Johnson could give him some time off and freshen him up for the Meadowlands Cup, which he used as a springboard to last year's Classic win.

Iron Deputy, winner of the Brooklyn Handicap in the slop, quietly ran a strong third, coming from off the pace this time and hanging tough in the stretch. The Classic lost a major player when Harlan's Holiday suffered a ligament injury, which forced his retirement.

More on the Breeders' Cup Front
In the Beverly D., Heat Haze was ridden perfectly by Jose Valdivia and put in her patented big late run. This filly runs like a European and doesn't like to be moved too soon. She obviously needs someone to run at, and when she does she has the ability to run down anybody in the last furlong. The daughter of Green Desert is the one they'll all have to beat in the Filly & Mare Turf. Her talented stablemate Sea of Showers gets her chance next weekend in the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup.

Also in the Filly & Mare Turf division, Chris Clement and Todd Pletcher mixed it up down at Monmouth Park, with Clement's Volga charging down the stretch to win the Matchmaker Stakes by almost 2 lengths over the Pletcher-trained Something Ventured. And at Saratoga, the favored Sand Springs held on to win the Lake Placid Handicap for 3-year-old fillies by three-quarters of a length over the fast-finishing Indy Five Hundred.

Back to the Turf, one American who did emerge from Arlington with high marks was Kicken Kris, who came off a second in the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, his only stakes appearance, to upset the grade I Secretariat Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths. And get this, his time for the 1 1/4 miles was only a fifth of a second slower than the Arlington Million. The son of Kris S. is trained by Michael Matz for Elizabeth Moran's Brushwood Stable.

Perfect Moon has risen from 2-furlong races and a maiden claimer to become the top 2-year-old in California. His victory in the Best Pal justified his 2 1/2-length score in the Hollywood Juvenile. The son of Malibu Moon has the pedigree to run farther, but he has run seven times already for Mel Stute, including three races at 2 furlongs, so he no doubt was very precocious. You had to be impressed with the runner-up Capitano, coming off one maiden victory. The son of Belong to Me has a star-studded female family and should bear watching this fall.

At Saratoga, Cuvee looked awesome winning the Saratoga Special, as he demolished a strong field of juveniles. If he's as impressive stretching out to a mile in the Futurity Stakes, we could be looking at a special colt who could provide undefeated Chapel Royal with some stiff competition in the Champagne.

Saratoga has already seen some huge maiden victories this meet, with Value Plus and Birdstone just to name a couple. Well, we saw a couple more this past Saturday by Purge and Actaeon, both trained by Todd Pletcher, who has a wealth of 2-year-old talent in his barn.

Purge, by Pulpit, showed a good deal of courage and desire for a first-time starter when he burst through a tiny opening along the rail nearing the quarter pole, then drew off to a 4-length score. Actaeon, by Elusive Quality, had a horrible trip in his debut, but rebounded with a powerful 7-length score on the front end. Watch out for both these colts.

Another runaway 2-year-old winner this weekend was the Hennessy colt Cactus Ridge who wired his field in the 7-furlong Ellis Park Juvenile, winning by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:23 as the 8-5 favorite.

At Del Mar, Bob Baffert sent out second-time starter Cooperation, by Halo's image, to break his maiden by 7 lengths in a brisk 1:03 4/5. Tarlow, a daughter of Stormin Fever, looked like Silky Sullivan, as she came from another planet to break her maiden under Julie Krone for John Shirreffs.

Disturbingthepeace, who owned the Del Mar meet last year, winning both its big sprint stakes, is back again, as he captured the Pat O'Brien for the second year in a row. The 5-year-old gelding won by 2 lengths in 1:21 2/5 for the 7 furlongs. Last year, the Pat O'Brien culminated a six-race winning streak for Disturbingthepeace, who has not shown that form until now.

On the Mile front, last year's Mile winner Domedriver was beaten in the Prix Jacques le Marois by the 3-year-old filly Six Perfections, who had finished an unlucky second in the English and Irish 1,000 Guineas. Unlike last year, with Rock of Gibraltar, this division looks pretty wide open, and the Americans could have a good shot of getting back to their winning ways, especially with the race being run at Santa Anita.