09/05/2001 12:00AM

Big horses, major preps and Breeders' Cup to boot

Email

ELMONT, N.Y. - Already established as one of the most important meets of any year, this fall's Belmont Park session - which begins its 37-day run on Friday - takes on added significance because Belmont will host the World Thoroughbred Championships on Oct. 27.

The championships consist of eight races with total purses worth $13 million, highlighted by the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic. This will be the third time, and first since 1995, that Belmont will host the Breeders' Cup series.

Typically, Belmont offers some of the best prep races on the road to the Breeders' Cup. They become more vital as Breeders' Cup horses try to get a feel for the Belmont surface, nicknamed Big Sandy.

Saturday's $500,000 Woodward Stakes, one of two Belmont preps for the Classic, is expected to have a star-studded field that includes defending Classic winner and Horse of the Year Tiznow, 2000 Preakness winner Red Bullet, Belmont horse-for-course Albert the Great, and Whitney winner Lido Palace.

In addition to getting a race over the track for their Breeders' Cup horses, many horsemen deem it important for horses to get a race around the track. At 1 1/2 miles, Belmont is the largest dirt racecourse in North America. Races up to nine furlongs are contested around one turn. At most other tracks, route races such as the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies and 1 1/8-mile Distaff are run around two turns.

That is one reason why some of the top outfits in the country have come east for the fall. California-based trainers Bobby Frankel, Neil Drysdale, Patrick Biancone, and Richard Mandella will have horses stabled here this fall. Bob Baffert is scheduled to ship in horses for certain races as well.

The presence of the Breeders' Cup in New York is also why California-based jockeys Gary Stevens and Victor Espinoza have opted to move their tack here for the fall.

The meet will run 46 stakes - 14 of which are Grade 1's - worth $10.9 million in purses. The $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 6 tops a Breeders' Cup Preview Day card that also features the $750,000 Beldame for fillies and mares, the $500,000 Champagne for juvenile colts, and the $500,000 Frizette for juvenile fillies.

Friday's opening-day feature, the $75,000 General Douglas MacArthur Handicap for New York-breds, could have Breeders' Cup implications. Say Florida Sandy, who is being pointed to the Breeders' Cup Sprint, tops a field of eight entered in the seven-furlong race. Say Florida Sandy won this race in 1998 and 2000 and is 7 for 15 lifetime at Belmont.

However, Say Florida Sandy drew the rail and, at 127 pounds, must concede 10 to 16 pounds to his rivals. Last Saturday, he was scratched out of the Grade 1 Forego Handicap after drawing the rail. Say Florida Sandy also was entered for Friday's Paterson Handicap at The Meadowlands, and he drew the rail there, too.

If he runs in the MacArthur, Say Florida Sandy is strictly the horse to beat. He has won three graded stakes this year and has a 5-4-0 record from 10 starts in 2001. The last time he faced state-breds, Say Florida Sandy won the Hollie Hughes in February at Aqueduct.

If Say Florida Sandy scratches, the MacArthur becomes wide open. John Paul Too has finished first or second in 13 of 14 career starts and may go off a slight favorite. But, he has not been out since May 20 when he finished second in the Kingston Handicap on turf.

Trainer John Kimmel said John Paul Too came out of that race with a respiratory infection and missed six weeks of training. He spent the summer at Kimmel's Fair Hill, Md., operation and has trained well leading up to this race.

Impeachthepro ships down from Finger Lakes having won six of seven starts this year. He won a second-level state-bred allowance race at Belmont last year.