09/28/2005 11:00PM

Gold Cup has a twist: Flower Alley gets help

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Two 3-year olds will try to secure their Breeders' Cup Classic spots when they race against their elders for the first time: Flower Alley (above) in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Roman Ruler in the Goodwood.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Considering what remains standing in the handicap and 3-year-old divisions, Saturday's $1 million at Belmont Park should be a terrific barometer for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

With the exception of Saint Liam, Rock Hard Ten, and Afleet Alex, the Grade 1 Gold Cup has drawn virtually every important older male and 3-year-old still healthy enough to run. The eight Jockey Gold Cup entrants have combined to win 12 graded stakes this year, including the Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, and Travers.

The Jockey Club Gold Cup took on a different look at entry time Thursday when Alumni Hall wasn't entered but the Oaklawn Park Handicap winner Grand Reward and Bishop Court Hill were. If he runs, Bishop Court Hill would serve as a rabbit for Flower Alley, the Jim Dandy and Travers winner who could be favored for the Gold Cup.

Trainer Todd Pletcher is fearful that Flower Alley, who likes to stalk, would have to be the one to apply early pressure on the front-running Lava Man while perhaps setting the race up for closers such as Imperialism or Borrego. Pletcher has named Chantal Sutherland to ride Bishop Court Hill, who like Flower Alley is owned by Eugene Melnyk.

"I'd rather let somebody else do the dirty work instead of Flower Alley having to do it," Pletcher said. "You got some legitimate horses that are going to make one run late, and they're going to lag behind, and Flower Alley is going to have to keep the pressure on Lava Man. Why soften yourself up for somebody else?"

The Gold Cup is the centerpiece of an 11-race Belmont card that includes four other Grade 1 events that will help shape fields for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, which will be held here on Oct. 29. The Beldame, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Jockey Club Gold Cup will be part of a two-hour ESPN telecast beginning at 4 p.m. Eastern that will also include the Super Derby from Louisiana Downs and the Goodwood from Santa Anita.

The Beldame, Joe Hirsch, Jockey Club, and Flower Bowl Invitational make up a Belmont pick four with a guaranteed pool of $500,000. The Joe Hirsch, Jockey Club, Super Derby, and Goodwood make up a National Pick 4 with a guaranteed pool of $400,000.

The California-based trio of Lava Man, Borrego, and Imperialism shipped cross-country to get a better gauge of their chances in the BC Classic, run here at the same 1 1/4 mile distance of the Gold Cup.

The locally based 3-year-olds Flower Alley and Sun King will find out how they measure up against older males as they take them on for the first time. Suave, coming off huge performance in the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap, will tackle Grade 1 company for the first time this year.

Lava Man won the Hollywood Gold Cup, but was vanned off after finishing third in the Pacific Classic. In that race, Lava Man was part of a hot early pace and held on to lose by less than one length. Trainer Doug O'Neill said Lava Man was only "rubber-legged" after the race, and following 10 days of walking he has returned to himself.

"His last two works were proof of how well he's doing," O'Neill said. "The track here at Hollywood is really tiring and slow, and he's worked so strong and galloped out so, so well that he sure looks like he's as good, if not better, than he was going into Del Mar, and I think anything close to his Del Mar race would put him right there Saturday."

Trainer Beau Greely would like to see Borrego repeat his Pacific Classic at Del Mar, a race in which he rallied powerfully to win. Borrego has been at Belmont for two weeks and has two works over the track. Greely has been pleased with the way Borrego has adapted to his new surroundings and certainly wouldn't mind seeing Bishop Court Hill press Lava Man early.

"Obviously, I'd like to see some speed in there," Greely said. "At the same time, he doesn't have to be 12 to 14 lengths out it. He's doing well coming into the race. You always wonder, do they like the surface? So far, he's pretty much liked anything we've put him on."

Imperialism, who missed several months after suffering a pulled back muscle, comes off a strong win in the Grade 2 Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap at seven furlongs.

"He was definitely not 100 percent fit for that race," trainer Kristin Mulhall said. "He was ready to go seven-eighths - he had only been training for 60 days. He came out of that race super. He's going to have to step up quite a bit."

Owner Tracy Farmer and trainer Nick Zito won the 2000 Gold Cup with Albert the Great, the last 3-year-old to win this race. Farmer and Zito will try do it again with Sun King, who overcame post 14 to win the Pennsylvania Derby last out.

Suave is 2 for 2 and wired a modest field in the Grade 2 Saratoga Breeders' Cup, but he did it in style. Edgar Prado becomes the seventh rider to get on Suave in his last seven starts.

The field

Jockey Gold Cup
Purse: $1 million; 1 1/4 miles; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYWT.ODDS
1 Suave E. Prado 126 8-1
2 a-Bishop Court Hill C. Sutherland 126 8-5
3 Borrego G. Gomez 126 6-1
4 a-Flower Alley J. Velazquez 122 8-5
5 Sun King R. Bejarano 122 6-1
6 Lava Man P. Valenzuela 126 2-1
7 Imperialism V. Espinoza 126 8-1
8 Grand Reward M. Smith 126 20-1

* a-coupled: Bishop Court Hill and Flower Alley o Odds by Art Gropper
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN