08/23/2004 12:00AM

Ghostzapper rearranges pecking order


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Last weekend signaled a rearranging, if not changing, of the guard in the older male division, as Pleasantly Perfect got the job done in Sunday's Pacific Classic, Evening Attire showed he still has life in his 6-year-old bones with a compelling win in Sunday's Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap over a game Funny Cide, and Ghostzapper was lights out in Saturday's Philip Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Ghostzapper deserves first mention, because he was as impressive as a horse can be defeating three opponents in the slop in the Iselin, even though those conditions are not conducive to conclusive results. He dogged a sharp, if overmatched, Presidentialaffair before blowing him away in the stretch to score by nearly 11 lengths and earn a near hard-to-believe Beyer Speed Figure of 128. Nevertheless, this was a serious display of ability from a horse who, despite numerous fits and starts in his career, has always promised big things. And, it will be very interesting to follow him when he races next in Belmont Park's Woodward Stakes, which is to be his prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park.

It still remains to be seen if Pleasantly Perfect will be as effective in the Breeders' Cup Classic as he was when he scored an upset in last year's Classic, because even though he got back to winning in the Pacific Classic, he did so at the expense of Perfect Drift, who has developed a troubling tendency to finish second. Still, this was an encouraging effort from Pleasantly Perfect, who did not look like himself when beaten last time out in the San Diego Handicap in his first start back after winning the Dubai World Cup.

It is less certain that Evening Attire, and certainly Funny Cide, will be Breeders' Cup factors. But, it was clear following their performances Sunday that they will have to be dealt with in slightly less ambitious spots to come. Evening Attire, whose next start might come in Belmont's Jockey Club Gold Cup, on Sunday ran perhaps his best race since scoring an upset in the 2002 Gold Cup, capitalizing on a fast pace to win in a runaway. However, even the harshest Funny Cide critic had to be impressed with how he fought hard to secure second money after being hung three wide on the first turn while disputing a fast pace, and was floated four wide on the far turn.

Meanwhile, the matter of champion 3-year-old filly, which could have been settled in Saturday's Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga with a victory by Ashado, was instead made more complicated, thanks to a decisive victory by Society Selection.

Ashado already boasted victories in the Fair Grounds Oaks, the Kentucky Oaks, and the Coaching Club American Oaks, and a win in the Alabama would have made for a resume that would have been impossible to deny come Eclipse Award-voting time. But at 3-5, Ashado simply could not stay the 1 1/4 miles of the Alabama around two full turns, and wound up third.

The Alabama distance was also a concern for Society Selection, specifically whether she could reproduce the powerful finishing kick she demonstrated in running away with the Grade 1 Test Stakes at seven furlongs early in the Saratoga meet, going substantially longer. But when you're talking about the charges of Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens (Jerkens worked Society Selection a mile between the Test and Alabama), no such concerns are warranted. Society Selection looped the field going into the stretch and won by 2 1/2 lengths, going away.

"This has got to put her in the mix," Jerkens said, when asked if Society Selection's two sudden Grade 1 victories have made her a divisional championship contender. They have, indeed, and the 3-year-old filly title may now be decided in races that will include older females, like Belmont's Beldame, which is likely to be Society Selection's next start, and perhaps even the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Lone Star Park.

When asked if Texas was looking any more enticing to him, Jerkens, as reluctant a shipper as you will find, shook his head as if to say "Sheesh, can't you let me enjoy this one for a while," before saying, "I don't know. That [the Breeders' Cup] hasn't worked out for me yet."

A race before the Alabama, Afleet Alex had to work harder than he ever had before in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. After winning his first three starts by a total of 28 1/2 lengths, including an impressive romp in the Sanford the second day of the Saratoga meet, Afleet Alex looked beaten in midstretch, and was running sideways under left-handed whipping, to boot. But, Afleet Alex settled suddenly late, finished with a burst of speed, and was up in time.

Tim Ritchey, the trainer of Afleet Alex, acknowledged that the Hopeful was a struggle for his colt, but attributed it to a combination of Saratoga slop and tougher competition. "I don't think he handled this track very well," he said. "But, the competition also steadily gets tougher and tougher. This was definitely the toughest field he has faced.

True, but the shadow of Roman Ruler, who was sensational winning the Best Pal at Del Mar, looms large over the division, and is growing.