09/24/2002 11:00PM

Devote this weekend to research


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Can't make the Breeders' Cup next month? Catch the warm-up this weekend, instead.

Some of the best horses in North America race on Saturday and Sunday, taking their final preps before the Breeders' Cup.

Belmont will stage the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Flower Bowl, and the Turf Classic. Arlington will offer the Arlington-Washington Futurity, the Arlington-Washington Lassie, the Sea O' Erin Breeders' Cup, and Washington Park Handicap. And north of the border, Woodbine will play host to the E.P. Taylor Stakes and Canadian International.

Across the pond, things are also getting interesting. Ascot will showcase the Diadem Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes - a race that is expected to attract either Hawk Wing or Rock of Gibraltar.

What better reason to make it out to the track or the nearest simulcast parlor? Call it research for the Breeders' Cup.

Even those handicappers tied up with other things will have the opportunity to scout these races on national television. CNBC will show the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Arlington-Washington Futurity delayed at 8 p.m. Eastern on Saturday, and NBC will air the remaining races at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Surprisingly, the Jockey Club Gold Cup is among the least interesting races. It is expected to have a short field, which has been all too common in Grade 1 dirt races in New York this year. Abreeze, Evening Attire, Lido Palace, Milwaukee Brew, Nothing Flat, and Repent are the headliners.

Lido Palace is the horse to beat, particularly when you consider that the Jockey Club Gold Cup isn't really a prep for him. Because he would have to be supplemented to the Breeders' Cup Classic at a cost of $800,000, he is unlikely to be tried in that race. The Jockey Club Gold Cup has been the focus of his fall schedule.

In terms of looking down the road to the Breeders' Cup, I'm intrigued by Repent. He ran superbly off a long layoff to finish a close second in the Travers, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup provides a measuring stick to determine where he and the other 3-year-olds fit against older horses.

The juveniles at Arlington seem a cut below the best, but with 2-year-olds, progression takes place so rapidly that one could easily jump up and become a player in the Breeders' Cup.

These horses will also have a benefit that Juvenile favorites Vindication and Sky Mesa won't have - a race over the track. These inexperienced babies will be less likely to get rattled by the surroundings on Breeders' Cup Day.

The E.P. Taylor and Canadian International should also prove to be solid preps for the Filly and Mare Turf and the Turf. With all the money the Canadians are offering, it's no surprise. The E.P. Taylor carries a purse of $750,000, and the Canadian International goes for $1.5 million. These translate to purses of roughly $475,000 and $950,000, respectively, in U.S. dollars. That's some serious dough, whatever the currency.

Woodbine's sweeping turf course and cool weather also seem to entice trainers to run their horses there, and this year trainer Neil Drysdale is taking advantage with Nadia in the E.P. Taylor.

Lastly, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes merits a close look on the television broadcast, particularly if Rock of Gibraltar starts.

Trainer Aidan O'Brien has said that he will start Hawk Wing if the ground remains firm, but could run Rock of Gibraltar in his place if the ground softens.

Let it rain. I would love to get a glimpse of Rock of Gibraltar, who became the first horse to win seven successive European Group 1 races when he won the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp earlier this month.

Imagine that. If a horse won seven straight Grade 1 races in North American, we would be calling him a superhorse - which is exactly what Europeans are calling him.

Perhaps this weekend, we will get a chance to see the talent behind the headlines.