10/07/2001 11:00PM

Cup preview filled with impressive showings


BELMONT, N.Y. - Never better.

Aptitude, improved with blinkers and maturity, was an impressive winner of the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap in mid-August. A 4-year-old colt by A.P. Indy, he was even more impressive at Belmont Park on Saturday when he cruised to a 10-length victory in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup. On an afternoon of outstanding individual performances, Aptitude was the star of the show. He will be supplemented to the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 27, and now it appears America has a chance of defending successfully against those imposing threats from Europe, Fantastic Light and Galileo.

This wasn't the strongest field to go to the post in the history of the Jockey Club Gold Cup; Albert the Great, the 6-5 favorite, has not been himself in recent months and was never really a factor in the Gold Cup.

Generous Rosi, who was second, only recently moved up to stakes competition. But Aptitude sparkled, rating nicely off the pace for Jerry Bailey, then coming on to demolish those behind him. He led by eight at the eighth pole and won by 10 lengths, as comfortable as he could be.

"I just hope he didn't run too good," trainer Bobby Frankel commented later. "You don't want a horse to peak in the prep race. But he was within himself and appears to have come out of it in fine shape. Some minor problems kept him from giving his best but he seems to be past that point now and we have confidence in him. If he wins the Classic, he could be Horse of the Year."

Another smashing performance on Saturday's remarkable program was the victory of Officer in the $500,000 Champagne Stakes. Trainer Bob Baffert had prepared easterners for a special competitor by remarking that Officer was probably the best 2-year-old he ever had. The attractive Bertrando colt lived up to his billing, rating kindly in the early stages and then accelerating to storm past the leader, Heavyweight Champ, in the upper stretch. He won by almost four lengths, and this might have been the most impressive 2-year-old race since Arazi's memorable appearance in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile of 1991.

Like Aptitude, Officer's competition Saturday was moderate but did nothing to detract from what is obviously a superior colt.

You and Cashier's Dream had a memorable meeting at Saratoga in the Adirondack, with You the winner by a desperate neck at 6 1/2 furlongs.

When they met again Saturday in the $500,000 Frizette at a 1 1/16 miles, You proved to be the better stayer. A You and I filly, trained by Bobby Frankel and ridden by Edgar Prado, she won by more than six lengths.

She will be a powerful presence in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, and Frankel, who has yet to saddle a Breeders' Cup winner, is approaching this year's competition with well-founded expectations.

Racing is a game of the unexpected, however. The horse many considered to be the surest winner for Frankel on Saturday was upset as the 9-10 favorite in the $750,000 Beldame for fillies and mares. Flute, in her first start since winning the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga in mid-August, was beaten 1 1/4 lengths by the Gazelle winner, Exogenous, who had to withstand an inquiry. The tapes showed Exogenous bearing in several times, but her action did not appear to affect the outcome.

Exogenous is an improving filly and will go on to the Breeders' Cup Distaff and another meeting with Flute. Flute should benefit from her Beldame seasoning and the Distaff, as always, promises to be one of the most competitive of the Breeders' Cup events.