10/07/2004 12:00AM

Bet Willard Straight for upset in Kelso


NEW YORK - This is the last weekend of serious prep races for the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 30. And on Saturday, Belmont Park once again leads the way with three Grade 1 races and one Grade 2, worth a total $2.1 million.

The richest of the races Saturday at Belmont, or anywhere else for that matter, is the $750,000 Beldame Stakes, a key stepping-stone to the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Also at Belmont are the Champagne Stakes for 2-year-olds, and the Frizette Stakes for 2-year-old fillies, each worth $500,000, and the $350,000 Kelso Breeders' Cup Handicap at one mile on the turf.

The Kelso is a useful stepping-stone to the Breeders' Cup Mile, and there are two other such races Saturday, the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, and the $250,000 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita. Also on the Keeneland card is the $500,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity, which, like the Champagne, is a springboard to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and the $150,000 Sycamore Breeders' Cup at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.

Elsewhere, there are four big breeders' event days Saturday at tracks around the country. It's Maryland Million Day at Pimlico with the $200,000 Maryland Million Classic heading a 12-race card worth $1.1 million. It's also Best of Ohio Day at Thistledown with five stakes worth nearly $300,000.

Saturday night is West Virginia Breeders Classics Night at Charles Town, and Michigan Sire Stakes Night at Great Lakes Downs. The $300,000 West Virginia Breeders Classic tops a card that includes eight statebred stakes worth $1 million, while the six Michigan Sire Stakes are worth a total of $720,000.

Here are my three spotlight stakes, in order of preference:

Kelso Breeders' Cup

With respectable recent performances against such solid turf milers as Designed for Luck and Special Ring, King of Happiness is obviously a strong contender in this race. But, I really liked the way Willard Straight won the restricted Troy Stakes at Saratoga last time out, and I'm taking him to score right back.

Despite being floated six wide into the stretch of the Troy, which is an important consideration on the tight-turned inner turf course at Saratoga, Willard Straight produced a powerful finish - completing his final quarter-mile in just under 23 seconds.

The Kelso is certainly a more difficult assignment, but that victory made Willard Straight, who is 2 for 2 on the turf at Belmont, 3 for 3 going a mile on the grass. And helped by Christine's Outlaw and Millennium Dragon, Willard Straight should again get a fair pace to rally into.

Lane's End Breeders' Futurity

Patriot Act may be a maiden running against 11 winners, but that doesn't bother me. Although I do respect Cradle Stakes winner Bellamy Road, the maiden race at Belmont Park that Patriot Act was narrowly beaten in last time out was a better race than most of the stakes his opponents come out of, and he is my firm pick.

Patriot Act, a close third at Saratoga in his first start, made a sweeping move from off the pace on the far turn last time out, but lost a stretch battle with Sun King, who is also a highly regarded prospect. Nevertheless, Patriot Act finished nearly 11 lengths in front of the third finisher, and the 93 Beyer Speed Figure he earned is the best in this field - 10 points better than what Bellamy Road earned in the Cradle. Moreover, being a son of A.P. Indy, Patriot Act figures to be only tougher with the added turn and extra distance he gets in this race.


If I can go with Patriot Act in the Lane's End, then I can certainly go with Sun King himself in this race, and I will - even though Afleet Alex and Proud Accolade make this a considerably tougher race.

As accomplished as Afleet Alex is (he swept the Sanford and Hopeful at Saratoga), there is still a big question about his ability at a distance. And as promising as Proud Accolade is (he won his two starts at Saratoga by a total of 13 lengths), Sun King matched that one's best Beyer in his maiden victory. Following his victory over Patriot Act going a mile, Sun King galloped out well, which is an indication he will like the added ground. Plus, his trainer, Nick Zito, certainly knows how to win this race. He has done it four times.