09/02/2008 11:00PM

Cup preps may feel pinch

Email
Barbara D. Livingston
Curlin, winning the Woodward, is possible for the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

ELMONT, N.Y. - As summer turns to fall, thoughts of many in horse racing turn to the Breeders' Cup. With this year's Breeders' Cup being contested over a synthetic surface at Santa Anita, horsemen have plenty to think about.

Many New York horsemen will be grappling with whether to prep their potential Breeders' Cup horses over a synthetic surface - such as Santa Anita's, Keeneland's, or Turfway Park's - or stick close to home and run over the dirt course at Belmont Park.

Belmont's 38-day fall meet opens Friday, and despite having some of the most tradition-rich stakes races on the calendar, racing secretary P.J. Campo admits to being concerned over where horsemen will opt to run.

"One, it's on the West Coast, and two, it's on synthetic; obviously the logical thing for most guys to do is get a race over the course," Campo said Wednesday in his Belmont Park office. "Being it's synthetic and there's so much controversy about it, a lot of guys might stay home and then run straight over it. But it is a big concern of mine."

Last year, when the Breeders' Cup was held at Monmouth Park, Belmont was the place to prep. No fewer than six BC winners - Curlin, Indian Blessing, War Pass, Lahudood, English Channel, and Ginger Punch - won a Grade 1 at Belmont in the fall.

Trainers Kiaran McLaughlin and Todd Pletcher have already decided to send at least one horse each to California for their final prep to see how they handle Santa Anita. It remains to be seen if others follow suit.

Of course, a lot of the focus will be on what the connections of Curlin will do. In mid-August, Jess Jackson, the majority owner of Curlin, intimated the horse would run in the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup here on Sept. 27. Following Curlin's victory in last Saturday's Woodward at Saratoga, Jackson said he and trainer Steve Asmussen would discuss all options including possibly attempting Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface in the $500,000 Goodwood on Sept. 27.

"I'm very hopeful that Curlin stays here for the Jockey Club," Campo said. "I think it helped making it an invitational last year. So much changes within two weeks prior to the race. That you can have an alternate list the week before helps."

The Gold Cup is one of five Grade 1 races on the Sept. 27 card, which includes the Vosburgh, Beldame, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational, and Flower Bowl Invitational.

There are 10 Grade 1 flat races on the calendar, beginning Saturday with the $300,000 Ruffian and $250,000 Garden City. Indian Blessing, last year's champion 2-year-old filly, heads a field of nine entered in the Ruffian. Pure Clan and Ariege, Grade 1 winners from the International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Stable, head an eight-horse field entered in the Garden City, a race that did not draw any serious European horses.

The traditional fall opening-day feature, the General Douglas MacArthur, was not scheduled this year. Thus, the Friday feature is the $75,000 Positive Gal, a six-furlong stakes on the Widener turf. Handicappers won't have Linda Rice to bail them out, as the queen of the turf sprints did not enter one of the eight in here.

Diamondrella finished the Belmont spring/summer meet with two allowance wins over Belmont's turf courses. Trainer Angel Penna Jr. was really encouraged by her July 19 win, in which Diamondrella ran seven furlongs in 1:21.25 and held off an oncoming Sweet Ransom.

"It was a great time. It looked like she was going to get caught and she didn't," Penna said. "She showed a lot of guts, a lot of determination."

Penna said he elected not to run Diamdondrella at Saratoga because of the 5 1/2-furlong distance of the turf sprints and tight-turned nature of the course up there. Diamondrella will break from the rail under Rajiv Maragh.

Stormy West is one of two horses Bill Mott is sending out in the Positive Gal. She twice ran very well at seven furlongs at Belmont, and now will make her first start at six. Unfolding Wish will cut back to six furlongs off a poor effort in a 1 1/16-mile turf stakes at Monmouth last month.

Solarana will try to transfer her solid dirt form to the turf for trainer Stanley Hough, while Taletobetold was beaten 2 1/2 lengths in the Old Red Stakes going a mile at Saratoga.

Grandstand admission is free on Friday and Sunday.