10/08/2001 12:00AM

All of a sudden, some new threats emerge


NEW YORK - Perhaps the best way to digest all the critical stakes action that took place across the country last weekend is to put it into context of the upcoming Breeders' Cup races.


Early Saturday afternoon, no one in their right mind would have thought that Aptitude had a real chance to go off the favorite in the Classic.

Well, it appears that sanity isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Aptitude's monstrous 10-length win in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, combined with Albert the Great's miserable near 20-length loss and Tiznow's very spotty third in Sunday's Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita suddenly makes Aptitude America's most dangerous horse in the Classic.

This is a remarkable turnaround for a colt who needed help from the stewards to get his first stakes win in the Hollywood Gold Cup, who had rightfully been denigrated as an underachiever, and who only began to shed that label when he beat a modest field one start before the Gold Cup in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap. If there is a horse who best exemplifies trainer Bobby Frankel's incredible hot streak, it is this one.


Officer is a son of Bertrando, so a few of his contemporaries may catch up to him when the distances get longer. But for now, he has to be recognized for the freak that he is. He shipped across the country to Belmont for Saturday's Champagne Stakes, stretched out from seven furlongs to 1 1/16 miles and encountered a surface at Belmont that is often tricky for newcomers. Yet he remained unbeaten and thoroughly untested with a dominating romp. Who knows if Officer will have the right answer when he is finally challenged? Just know that he will be one of the shortest prices in Breeders' Cup history two weeks from Saturday, perhaps even rivaling Meadow Star, who was 1-5 when she won the 1990 Juvenile Fillies.

Still, you had to be impressed with Siphonic in Saturday's Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. He was stepping up and stretching out off just a maiden win in his debut, and yet he demolished a large field while giving the strong impression that distance will never be a question for him.

You have to ask, after seeing Officer and Siphonic's performances: Will the connections of the undefeated Hopeful winner, Came Home, press on with their plans to train up to the Juvenile? Came Home missed his prep in the Norfolk because of ankle filling, and he looks to be at a decided disadvantage now.

Juvenile Fillies

Habibti, the undefeated Del Mar Debutante winner who missed the Oak Leaf because of a fever, looks to be in the same boat as Came Home. You couldn't have been more decisive winning Saturday's Frizette Stakes .

Trainer Ken McPeek has told everyone that Take Charge Lady is special, and he saw his confidence justified when Take Charge Lady won Friday's Alcibiades at Keeneland. But, all the confidence in the world won't change the fact that, right now, You is several lengths superior to Take Charge Lady.


What seemed like one of the more clear-cut Breeders' Cup races is not any more after defending Sprint champ Kona Gold was soundly beaten in Saturday's Ancient Title at Santa Anita.

Yes, if it means anything to you, Kona Gold was conceding 11 pounds to Swept Overboard, who came from way back to win after being set up by a scorching pace. But Kona Gold sat the garden trip, got first run at the speed, and was simply outkicked.

Kona Gold is being campaigned even more carefully this year than in 2000, when he won the Sprint in his sixth and last start. The Ancient Title was only his fourth start this year.

Enter Delaware Township. A lot of people thought he was a potential upsetter in last year's Sprint after he won Belmont's Forest Hills Handicap impressively, but he was eliminated when he drew post 14. He galloped again in the Forest Hills on Sunday and, given his clear affinity for Belmont, he will be dangerous again, with a reasonable post.


After watching Saturday's Beldame at Belmont and Sunday's Spinster at Keeneland, the older filly and mare division remains a mess, and a 3-year-old should win this race.

The "now" 3-year-old is Exogenous, who made the Beldame her second Grade 1 win of the meet and second win from as many starts in blinkers. She would have won by more had she not run like a snake through the stretch.

But even though Flute lost to Exogenous at odds-on in the Beldame, it would be foolish to get off her bandwagon now. Probably because she didn't want to be outside of the drifting Beautiful Pleasure, Flute committed to a rail trip, and the rail wasn't the place to be. Lesson learned, and with her first race over the Belmont track behind her, Flute is still the one to beat in the Distaff.


Forbidden Apple had to wait for racing room along the inside in the stretch run before going on to win Saturday's Kelso Handicap at Belmont, but it was not serious trouble. And just because Hap mastered a moderate field in Sunday's Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile, it does not mean he suddenly excels at eight furlongs. No, I don't think the Europeans are worried after either of these races.

But Val Royal's win in Sunday's Oak Tree Mile is a different story. The field Val Royal beat wasn't any stronger than the ones Forbidden Apple or Hap handled. What was so impressive was his powerful stretch kick.

That he was able to unleash such a kick in his first start since March and just his second start in more than two years suggests that maybe Val Royal could be the Americans' answer to an imposing European contingent.