09/25/2014 2:04PM

Hovdey: Racing measures up on Saturday's sports calendar


Prepare for The Overwhelming.

For college football fans, it is Week 6, and there’s no turning back. Saturday’s menu pits such natural enemies as Notre Dame vs. Syracuse, Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky, and TCU vs. SMU. Army also plays Yale, which is always good for a laugh.

By Saturday afternoon, golf nuts will be adding Red Bull to their Arnold Palmers. The Ryder Cup will be deep into its second day of wall-to-wall matches, morning, noon, and night, televised from Scotland, which is either five hours ahead of East Coast time or a century behind.

Baseball’s followers get a breather, with all the postseason teams set and the playoffs commencing Tuesday for the right to get stomped on by the Dodgers or the Angels. That leaves them plenty of time to shift their allegiance temporarily to Thoroughbred racing, which on Saturday dishes up a feast to die for.

Commencing at 3 p.m. in New York and noon out West, no fewer than 10 Grade 1 events will fill the ensuing five hours. Blink at any point, and chances are you will miss a significant moment in the lead-up to the 2014 Breeders’ Cup, to be run Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 at Santa Anita.

The curtain rises first at Belmont Park with the $400,000 Beldame Invitational at nine furlongs. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the invitations for the three best females in the country – Close Hatches, Beholder, and Untapable – all were somehow lost in the mail. It happens. Fiftyshadesofhay, who won the Ruffian at Belmont last spring, at least had a decent view of Close Hatches at the end of the Personal Ensign. That might be enough.

Next comes the $600,000 Flower Bowl and an opportunity to get the geography right from the 1-2 finishers in the Ballston Spa, which was run at the Spa in August. Abaco, the winner, is named for a cluster of islands in the Bahamas chain where “The Insider” was filmed with Al Pacino. Strathnaver, a close second that day, is a river valley in the far north of Scotland, a long way from the Ryder Cup. They both have a chore to beat Stephanie’s Kitten, who gets John Velazquez back after a two-race romance with Frankie Dettori.

Now comes the short and long of the day, as the six-furlong, $400,000 Vosburgh sets the table for the 12-furlong, $600,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational. I love the fact that sprint champion Aldebaran, second in the 2002 Vosburgh, is the sire of Hirsch favorite Main Sequence, and that Private Zone, the defending Vosburgh champ, makes his second start after more than a year away from the races, with Martin Pedroza back on board. To win, they have to beat Palace, which is much easier said than done.

At this point, the scene abruptly shifts to California for the return of Beholder in the $300,000 Zenyatta. She won it last year and figures to win it again, as long as Iotapa doesn’t freak like she did in the Vanity at Santa Anita in June, when she won by more than 10 lengths. That dirt track has been replaced since then, although Iotapa had nothing to do with it.

It’s back to Belmont and the million-dollar Jockey Club Gold Cup, aka Travers Reboot, featuring V. E. Day, Wicked Strong, and Tonalist. For that kind of money, you’d think they would all be tight as a drum, but with the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on the horizon ... well, let’s just say a surprise would be no surprise, and New York’s very own Zivo loves that track.

To the West for the rest, commencing with the $300,000 FrontRunner Stakes and a chance to see if Del Mar Futurity winner American Pharoah can get loose on the lead and make it last around two turns. Victor Espinoza, still kicking himself for getting California Chrome trapped in the Pennsylvania Derby, will be off and running with the favorite.

The Rodeo Drive offers turf females half the purse of the Flower Bowl but plenty of intrigue, with Emollient (Bill Mott), Irish Mission (Christophe Clement), and Rusty Slipper (Graham Motion) in town from the East to meet locals like Moulin de Mougin, Parranda, and Stormy Lucy. They’d better get it while they can, though, before the Euros hit town for the Breeders’ Cup.

Even with a quality middle-distance horse like Fed Biz in the field, Shared Belief has been all but conceded the win in the $300,000 Awesome Again, and why not? For the first time, he is doing something he has already done before – facing older horses, running on dirt, and going nine furlongs. There are not too many tests the racy gelding has left to pass, other than dealing with defeat. He won’t start now.

Finally, the curtain falls on the day with the $300,000 Chandelier for 2-year-old fillies. If past is prologue, young filly form on the Del Mar Polytrack will not necessarily hold up on the dirt at Santa Anita, new or old. This is not news to Todd Pletcher, who knows how to read a stakes book and has wisely sent Adirondack Stakes runner-up Angela Renee to California, figuring her flop in the sloppy Spinaway was a throw-out, and her maiden win at Belmont in June was as good as anything in the Chandelier field has managed. Also, Pletcher has been assured it will not rain.