Updated on 09/17/2011 10:58AM

A division with depth

Congaree (top) proved he's a bonafide long-distance horse in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Mineshaft may be given a freshening until the Sept. 6 Woodward.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - For the first half of the year, racing's focus is on the 3-year-olds preparing for the Triple Crown. And while those horses may remain in the spotlight for another month or so, soon they will have to move on and face an older horse division that is one of the more robust of recent years, leading to the hope that this year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita could be a blockbuster event.

Congaree became the latest to join the elite group of 1 1/4-mile runners on Sunday, when he answered any lingering doubts about his ability to handle 10 furlongs by capturing the Hollywood Gold Cup. Over the next few weeks, many of the division's stars will be in action all over the country.

Perfect Drift, the upset winner of last month's Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, is scheduled to run in Saturday's Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park. Mineshaft, who was defeated by Perfect Drift in the Foster but bounced back to take the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park, is heading on Thursday to Saratoga, where he could race in next month's Whitney Handicap.

Definitely heading to the Aug. 2 Whitney is Volponi, last year's Classic winner, who was a sharp second to Mineshaft in the Suburban. Also possible for the Whitney are Harlan's Holiday, who was second to Congaree in the Gold Cup, and Tenpins, who returned from a layoff and won the Cornhusker Handicap at Prairie Meadows last week.

Congaree is headed to Del Mar, where he could race next in the Pacific Classic on Aug. 24. His rivals could include the brilliant Candy Ride, an unbeaten South American import trained by Ron McAnally.

Toss in the comebacking pair of Medaglia d'Oro and Milwaukee Brew, both trained by Bobby Frankel - and both scheduled to return in the Whitney - and the older horse division reeks of class and depth.

As was pointed out by analyst Randy Moss on last weekend's ESPN2 telecast of the Gold Cup, nine of the 12 runners from last year's Classic remained in training this year, including Volponi, Medaglia d'Oro, and Milwaukee Brew, who swept the first three positions. Last year's Classic was perceived as below average, but the horses exiting that race have gone on to record impressive Beyer Speed Figures this year. Their ranks have been enhanced by the emergence of horses such as Candy Ride and Mineshaft, and standout 3-year-olds such as Funny Cide and Empire Maker will be racing their elders once Saratoga closes shop.

Frankel has strength in numbers. Medaglia d'Oro, who injured a hoof in a stall accident following his victory three months ago in the Oaklawn Handicap, has been training sharply in recent weeks at Belmont Park. "He's ready to go," Frankel said Tuesday from New York. So is Milwaukee Brew, who has not raced since he contracted pneumonia following his victory in the Santa Anita Handicap in March.

"He's going to run in the Whitney, and then the Pacific Classic," Frankel said. "His best races all have come after he has a prep."

Frankel said he also plans to run the 3-year-old Peace Rules in the Pacific Classic - where he would face older horses for the first time - following the Haskell Invitational Aug. 3 at Monmouth.

Mineshaft likely would vie for favoritism in the Whitney with Medaglia d'Oro, but trainer Neil Howard and majority owner Will Farish have yet to decide on whether Mineshaft will run there.

"He'll either run in the Whitney, or do nothing and wait until the Woodward," Howard said Tuesday from Churchill Downs, where Mineshaft is based. "He's been going along pretty strong, and he's doing well. There's the thought that maybe we should give him a break so that he'll be at his best for the Woodward, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Breeders' Cup Classic. He's not showing any signs of needing a break, but we don't want to realize he needs one at the eighth pole of a race."

The first of the early fall races Howard mentioned, the Woodward, is Sept. 6 at Belmont.

Volponi will finally get a chance to race around two full turns in the Whitney, which his trainer, P.G. Johnson, believes will be of great benefit. Volponi's first three starts this year were at sweeping Belmont Park, where even a 1 1/4-mile race like the Suburban is not around two complete turns.

"He loves two turns," Johnson said from New York. "He's run well at Saratoga, The Meadowlands, and Arlington. It's not the track. It's just the fact that he's been in two-turn races."

Johnson said he had been considering moving Volponi to the turf for the July 25 Bernard Baruch Handicap for his next start, but has decided the Whitney makes more sense. "Turf races can be rough with full fields," Johnson said.

Perfect Drift is being pointed for the Classic at year's end, but he will have an adventurous summer. After racing him on dirt this weekend, trainer Murray Johnson plans to move Perfect Drift back to the turf for next month's Arlington Million.

"He's run well on both surfaces," Johnson said from Kentucky. Johnson said running at Arlington was more appealing than Saratoga because Johnson keeps a string at Arlington. "This is where we race. It's logistically easier," he said. "Plus you always want to try to win the biggest races at the places you race."

Perfect Drift has won the Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park, the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park, and the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.

Harlan's Holiday was flying back to New York on Tuesday from California. Todd Pletcher, his trainer, said the Whitney is a possibility, but acknowledged he is leery about running Harlan's Holiday just 20 days after the Gold Cup.

"It's not ideal," Pletcher said from his barn at Belmont Park. "It depends on how he bounces out of the Gold Cup whether he runs in the Whitney. The other options are the Saratoga Cup and the Iselin."

The Saratoga Breeders' Cup at 1 1/4 miles is Aug. 16. The 1 1/8-mile Iselin will be run Aug. 23 at Monmouth Park.

Baffert, citing Congaree's ability to win races this year from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, said he believes Congaree is "the best older horse in training." Baffert said he wants to carefully manage his preparation before the Breeders' Cup. The Pacific Classic is an obvious target, but Baffert will not commit just yet.

"He's shipping to Del Mar on Friday," Baffert said from Santa Anita. "I'll get down there and see what's going on. He's a top, top horse. My main goal is to get him ready for the Breeders' Cup."

In that regard, he's got plenty of company.