Countdown to the Cup, Sept. 7

It's two months to the Breeders' Cup, but it feels like it should be sooner. California and New York are enjoying cool, crisp fall weather, and horses around the country are venturing off on the paths laid out for them by their trainers.

Who is heading where? Who looks as if they are on target to peak on Nov. 4? Who are the new faces to look out for? Those are some of the questions we will attempt to answer every Thursday until the Breeders' Cup. This week we will concentrate mainly on the Classic, while touching base on the other races.


As always, all eyes are on the Classic, especially with Horse of the Year honors still up for grabs for just about anyone who puts together a strong fall campaign. Yes, Dubai Millennium is gone, as is General Challenge, Stephen Got Even, and Red Bullet. But we still have a potentially exciting Classic if the remaining top-class horses stay healthy. First and foremost is Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who has a $60-70 million price tag hanging over his head. One would think his new owners still need some selling power to peddle off seasons at $200,000 a clip. Trainer Neil Drysdale realizes he's handling crystal, in more ways than one, and has booked a hotel room on Long Island for the next month.

The good news is that Fusaichi Pegasus arrived at Belmont Park last Sunday and turned in a sharp half-mile work on Wednesday in :48 2/5. Drysdale caught him in :47 and change, out 5 furlongs in 1:01. As for his plans for the son of Mr. Prospector, Drysdale said, "We're just getting him fit right now and then we'll figure out what to do. He's doing very well and and has grown and filled out since the spring."

On a more immediate note, Sept. 16 is when we should learn just where we are regarding the Classic picture. Bobby Frankel is shipping Pacific Classic winner Skimming to Belmont Park to face the red-hot Lemon Drop Kid and the always-tough Behrens in the Woodward Stakes, while at Turfway Park, Hollywood Gold Cup winner Early Pioneer will square off against Pimlico Special winner Golden Missile, as well as last year's BC Classic winner Cat Thief and Swaps winner Captain Steve. Phil Mitchell is still deciding whether to run the globe-trotting Running Stag at Turfway or in the Woodward. The latest report is that he's leaning slightly to the Kentucky Cup, but NYRA officials currently are working on changing his mind.

Frankel is confident in Skimming after the colt received a speed figure of "3" in the Pacific Classic. "He's run a '6,' '6,' '4,' and '3' in his last four starts" Frankel said. "And who's going to run with him in the Woodward?" He ships to New York Sept. 12.

Frankel said that although Kentucky Derby and Belmont runnerup Aptitude has begun working, it is unlikely the son of A.P. Indy will be ready for the Breeders' Cup. "He's still five to six weeks from a race," Frankel said, "but you never know."

Behrens has been training sharply at Saratoga, working 6 furlongs in 1:14 1/5 on Sept. 3. Lemon Drop Kid has also been training well. Trainer Scotty Schulhofer and the majority of the country believe the son of Kingmambo the best horse in the nation following his impressive victories in the Brooklyn, Suburban, and Whitney. A longshot to keep an eye on in the Woodward and especially the Jockey Club Gold Cup is the fast-closing and consistent Catienus, who is ready for a big effort.

Of the top horses pointing for the Kentucky Cup Classic, only Captain Steve is not being considered for the BC Classic. Golden Missile suffered a nasty bruise on his foot in the Whitney, which became infected, and he's been training in egg bar shoes. Trainer Joe Orseno is looking at the Hawthorne Gold Cup following the Kentucky Cup.

In Europe, the big horse now is Giant's Causeway, winner of four Group I's, the Juddmonte International, Eclipse Stakes, Sussex Stakes and St. James's Palace Stakes. Although he's never run on dirt, he has trained very well over it and is by Storm Cat out of the hard-hitting Mariah's Storm, a multiple stakes winner on dirt and earner of over $700,000. He may run in Saturday's Irish Champion Stakes, but no decision has yet been made.

Others pointing for the BC classic are Albert the Great, beaten in the last jump in the Travers, who may run in the Jerome Handicap or look for a later stakes, and the rapidly improving Tiznow, runner-up in the Pacific Classic and Swaps Stakes, who is headed for the Super Derby, as is Pennsylvania Derby winner Pine Dance, who turned in a huge effort in his first ever start on the dirt. There is also Belmont winner Commendable and Philip H. Iselin Handicap winner Rize. Trainer Carl Nafzger announced Friday, Sept. 8, that Travers winner Unshaded had strained a tendon and would undergo surgery, removing him from this year's Breeders' Cup contention.

One horse we were very impressed with at Saratoga is the Bill Mott-trained Ground Storm, an impressive winner of three races at the meet. Although he has never run in a stakes and has a long way to go to catch up with these horses, the son of Summer Squall has a beautiful way of moving and seems to possess a big knockout punch.


Montjeu, the king of Europe, will meet a small field in Sunday's Prix Foy at Longchamp as his prep for the Prix de l'Arc de triomphe. Originally scheduled to run in Saturday's Irish Champion Stakes, he missed some work and will take the easier route. Meanwhile, English and Irish Derby winner Sinndar also faces a small field in Sunday's Prix Niel, but could run into a tiger in the improving Sobieski, owned by Sheikh Mohammed. Speaking of Sheikh Mohammed, he sends Godolphin's Fantastic Light to America for Saturday's Man o' War Stakes against John's Call and Bobby Frankel's new purchase, Timboroa, a Group I winner in Italy who was fifth in the Prix Jacques le Marois.

Other top horses who could point for the Turf are Sunshine Street, Honor Glide, Manndar, Northern Quest, Ciro, Mula Gula, Rob's Spirit, Dark Moondancer, Bienamado, and Down the Aisle, who is back in training for Bill Mott.


This could be the real slugfest of the Breeders' Cup if Beautiful Pleasure, Heritage of Gold, Riboletta, Jostle, and Lu Ravi all come up to the race in top shape. Beautiful Pleasure will await the Beldame, with Heritage of Gold and Lu Ravi likely for the Spinster. Riboletta, who has annihilated everything in her path in California, ships east for the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont. We also have the much-anticipated return of Surfside, who is back in training, as well as the Gardenia winner Silent Eskimo.

Kentucky Oaks and Mother Goose winner Secret Status attempts to rebound from two defeats at the hands of Jostle in Saturday's Gazelle Handicap at Belmont against the Shug McGaughey-trained Resort and several other hard-knocking 3-year-old fillies, including the Midwest invader Trip. In addition to Surfside, D. Wayne Lukas has Monmouth Oaks winner Spain, while Frankel has high hopes for recent runaway allowance winner Houdini's Honey.

Continued -- Mile, Juvenile, Juvenile Fillies and Fillies and Mares Turf.