Countdown to the Cup, Sept. 14

If you're lucky enough to be in New York or Kentucky this weekend, you're in for some super racing, with a good possibility of seeing a Breeders' Cup winner or two.

CLASSIC: Before getting to the weekend's racing, we had the privilege of visiting with Fusaichi Pegasus last Saturday, and am happy to report the big guy looks awesome. Oh, if only Mr. Drysdale actually does get him back to the races and back to Churchill Downs in top shape. The son of Mr. Prospector has really muscled out over the summer, his coat looks fantastic, and he's bright and alert. There's no comparison between the present Fusaichi Pegasus and the one we saw at Aqueduct after the Preakness, just days before his little foot incident.

From the time he arrived in Baltimore, he did not look like a happy horse on the track. The rambunctious behavior was gone, he had his ears pinned quite often, and he just seemed plain old ornery on the track. When we saw him in his stall at the Big A, he didn't appear to have the spark in him that he had at Churchill Downs. But that spark is back big-time. He looks to be happy and full of spunk once again, and when his 3 o'clock grazing hour passed and he still had not gone out, he began a chorus of whinnies, as if to remind the help of their tardiness. Now it's up to Drysdale. The trainer refuses to commit to anything or even speculate where the colt might show up. He is nominated to the Jerome Handicap on Sept. 23, so we'll just have to sit tight and keep our fingers crossed.

Now, on to the weekend. The Woodward and Kentucky Cup Classic both will draw small fields, so there is a possibility that neither race will be a true bill. Entertaining yes, but there is a good chance we could see some odd scenarios, and possibly a theft or two, especially in the Woodward, where only five were entered.

Skimming, wire-to-wire winner of the Pacific Classic and San Diego Handicap, looks to be the controlling speed in the Woodward, and unless Gander runs with him or he's not crazy about Belmont's surface and one-turn mile and an eighth, he could be a tough nut for Lemon Drop Kid and Behrens. But both horses have proven they like everything about Belmont, so they do have a home field advantage going for them. A victory by Lemon Drop Kid will make him the solid choice for the Classic and tough to catch in the race for Horse of the Year. No one talks about Behrens anymore, and it is possible he's seen his best days, but his last work in 1:00 1/5 over the Oklahoma training track in Saratoga was huge. He did have a big excuse in the Whitney, and we feel he wants to be closer to the pace than he's been recently. If he's right there turning for home, he might be ready to recapture some of the fancy footwork he showed while rattling off all those big wins last summer.

Ecton Park was scheduled to run in the Belmont BC Handicap, but trainer Elliott Walden came to his senses at the last minute and opted for the Woodward. We have always liked this colt from the time he was a young 3-year-old and feel he is capable of beating anyone on his best day. Although 1 1/4 miles is his best distance, we believe he can make his presence felt here at a pretty generous price. If he runs big, it should set him up well for the JC Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic.

At Turfway, all eyes will be on the three top-class older horses Golden Missile, Cat Thief, and Early Pioneer. But don't forget about the 3-year-old Captain Steve, who could be the sleeper in here. He loves the distance, he has the right running style, and he's finally matured into a classy racehorse. He beat Tiznow convincingly in the Swaps Stakes, and Tiznow came back and ran a big second to the older Skimming in the Pacific Classic. The Captain also tuned up for the race with a 5-furlong smoker in :58 4/5. While the three older horses might be a bit too tough for him on paper, remember, Golden Missile is coming off a nasty foot bruise and infection and had been training in bar shoes; Early Pioneer hasn't run since the Hollywood Gold Cup, and still has to prove that wasn't a fluke; and Cat Thief, who ran huge in the Whitney, was upset in this race last year by a 50-1 shot named Da Devil. Cat Thief looks to be on target to run big again in the Breeders' Cup, but the truth is, he hasn't won since last year's Classic, so he's never what you would call a lock. The unknown factor would be Rize, who looked sensational in his romp in the Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth. He looks to be the speed in here.

If you're not impressed with the American troops forming for the Classic, keep an eye across the Atlantic for Giant's Causeway, winner of five group I races in a row. Once again, this tiger refused to beaten in last Saturday's the Irish Champion Stakes. He loves a good slugfest, and if he can transfer that toughness and brilliance to the dirt, watch out. His breeding screams dirt, especially being out of the hard-hitting Mariah's Storm. The only question with him is how much he'll have left after another potentially tough battle coming up in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot next month.

Other Classic hopefuls not running Saturday are Commendable and Tiznow, who could meet in the Super Derby; and Albert the Great, who runs next in the Jerome Handicap. Running Stag had a bit of a setback and wasn't able to make the Woodward, but he should be ready for the JC Gold Cup.

TURF: After last Sunday's strolls in the park, all of Europe anxiously awaits the showdown between Montjeu and Sinndar in the Arc de Triomphe. If only one of them shows up at Churchill Downs it will add much-needed spice to the Turf. Europeans couldn't ask for anything more than a match between last year's Arc winner and this year's English and Irish Derby winner, both of whom look destined for greatness. Montjeu's form was flattered last week when Fantastic Light, coming off a second to Montjeu in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, captured the Man o' War Stakes at Belmont over the improving English filly Ela Athena.

Val's Prince, winner of last year's Turf Classic and Man o' War, drilled a sharp half in :47 2/5 on the inner turf course at Belmont, and was expected to be entered in Saturday's Belmont BC 'Cap.

Continued -- coverage of Distaff, Mile, Sprint, Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies, Filly and Mare Turf