09/26/2013 4:05PM

Jay Hovdey: A day for gridirons and Grade 1's


College football fans can’t all be at South Bend, Columbus, or Tuscaloosa on Saturday, just as racing fans can’t zip between Belmont Park and Santa Anita for the best single afternoon of sport this year. As a result, the airwaves will be abuzz, as millions settle into Barcaloungers and neighborhood bars for a day of heady indulgence in their favorite early autumn pastimes. Here’s how it should go …

The Bryant University Bulldogs – the Fightin’ Bulldogs – will be down from Smithfield, R.I., to renew their rivalry with the Wagner College Seahawks at Wagner College Stadium on Staten Island. Chances are the game, on ESPN3, won’t be in the books by the time the Beldame Invitational is run at 3:09 p.m. Eastern, noonish out West, but it should not take much longer than the length of a fourth quarter commercial break for Royal Delta to put the young upstart Princess of Sylmar in her place. The last time a truly outstanding 3-year-old filly met a world-class older filly or mare in the Beldame was in 2011, when Royal Delta got her clocked cleaned by Havre de Grace, who won by 8 1/4 lengths.

After the Beldame runners are home and dry it will be kickoff time for LSU at Georgia (bigger Bulldogs!) and Oklahoma at Notre Dame. LSU-Georgia should be fun, but OU vs. ND is kind of a foregone conclusion, the Sooners being 1-9 against the Irish, also Fightin’.

For the torn racing fan it should be easy to break away during the first quarter of either contest to watch the one-mile Kelso Handicap at 3:41 Eastern, especially since Donn Handicap winner Graydar comes back from ankle surgery in there, and fan favorite Jackson Bend, the little devil, is fresh from a good effort in the Forego. They should need about 94 seconds or so to get the job done. The race gets its name from the five-time Horse of the Year who won the 1961 Met Mile at Aqueduct under 130 pounds. Graydar carries 120.

By now Oklahoma will be demoralized by Notre Dame, so Sooners fans can find distraction in a cracking version of the Vosburgh Stakes at 4:13 Eastern. Defending champ The Lumber Guy will take on the winners of the Forego (Strapping Groom), the Alfred Vanderbilt (Justin Phillip), the Smile (Bahamian Squall), and the Woody Stephens (Forty Tales). For added zest, Martin Pedroza will be in town to ride Private Zone for his pal Rene Douglas. Fresh from his 14th championship at the Fairplex Park bullring, Pedroza should feel right at home, since practically half of the six-furlong Vosburgh is run around that big, fat Belmont turn.

How tough is it to market a sport with athletes named Kissable, White Rose, Mystical Star, and Laughing? They’ll meet in the Flower Bowl Invitational at 4:45 Eastern for, gulp, $600,000. Laughing hasn’t lost in three races this year, but she hasn’t won by much either. The unpronounceable English mare Qushchi gives Graham Motion and Edgar Prado a big chance at the prize.

Notre Dame is now playing their third-stringers trying to keep from running it up on OU, but don’t expect Ken and Sarah Ramsey to have pity on their rivals in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at 5:17 Eastern over 1 1/2 miles, also for 600 large. The Ramseys are doubling up with their Sword Dancer winner Big Blue Kitten and their Million winner (on a DQ) Real Solution, and for good measure tossing in Joes Blazing Aaron to make sure Little Mike doesn’t get away with a slow pace.

The Belmont half of the banquet wraps up at 5:40 Eastern with the Jockey Club Gold Cup. There are small children who don’t remember any horse but Flat Out ever winning the Gold Cup, as he tries for his third straight. Half a century ago, Kelso won five.

The last horse to seek a three-peat (trademark Pat Riley) was Skip Away, who got giant-killed by the Allen Jerkens runner Wagon Limit in 1998, and before that it was Creme Fraiche, who was last behind Waquoit in a sloppy four-horse regatta in 1988. Two-time Gold Cup winners Curlin, Slew o’ Gold, Shuvee, Nashua, and Mad Hatter did not attempt to win a third, while Dark Secret couldn’t, since he suffered a fatal foreleg injury winning his second straight Gold Cup in 1934.

Yawn and stretch, but don’t stray. At 6 p.m. Eastern, 3 o’clock out West, the Santa Anita show commences with 2-year-old fillies in the Chandelier Stakes (the race formerly known as the Oak Leaf) and a rematch of the Del Mar Debutante one-two finishers She’s a Tiger and Fascinating.

Ole Miss at Alabama starts at half-past on ESPN (the network formerly known as the home of horse racing), and at 3:34 Pacific the 1 1/4-mile Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita pits the three best turf mares in California – Marketing Mix, Tiz Flirtatious, and Lady of Shamrock – against Matchmaker winner Starstruck.

At the top of the hour we’ll see if Tamarando and Dance With Fate can come out of the clouds to be one-two in the FrontRunner Stakes on the dirt like they were on Polytrack in the Del Mar Futurity. In fact, the only dirt form in the field belongs to a pair of colts who ran at the Santa Rosa fair, so good luck.

There is a break in the major action after the FrontRunner, during which the viewer can enjoy the kickoff of Brown at Harvard on NBC Sports Network, which is currently the home of horse racing except not today. Then at 5 p.m. Pacific, the start of the Wisconsin-Ohio State tilt coincides with the most compelling matchup of the Santa Anita program in the Zenyatta Stakes at 1 1/16 miles. The West’s Beholder takes on the East’s Joyous Victory, two fast, front-running fillies, with Anna Rose Napravnik on one and Gary Lynn Stevens on the other. Buckle up.

The feast ends at 5:30 Pacific when Mucho Macho Man meets a collection of older California horses who are not named Game On Dude in the Awesome Again Stakes. And if there is room for dessert, fans can switch to Churchill Downs for their featured race under the lights at 9:05 p.m. Eastern, in which defending Breeders’ Cup Classic champ Fort Larned will try to get his groove back in the first running of the $175,000 Homecoming Classic at 1 1/8 miles. Imagine that – never been run and already a classic.