09/25/2002 11:00PM

Milwaukee Brew to get the Gold

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NEW YORK - Weather promises to be a significant factor in Saturday's two most important stakes races, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup and the $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational, both at Belmont Park.

The New York metropolitan area was supposed to receive between one and two inches of rain from late Thursday through early Saturday. Even that much rain may not affect the Gold Cup severely, as the New York Racing Association routinely seals its main tracks during heavy rains, and Belmont's main track is renowned for drying out quickly.

But there is little reason to be optimistic about how the weather will affect the Flower Bowl, which is a turf race. Even if the rain stops Saturday morning, it will be too late for Belmont's turf courses, which don't dry out nearly as fast this time of year as they do during the spring and summer. That means the turf will be soft, or close to it, and that will probably cost the Flower Bowl its marquee horse, Banks Hill, who was awesome winning last year's Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. The connections of Banks Hill are adamant about getting firm going for their filly in her return to America.

Fortunately, weather will not be a factor in two other notable races on Saturday, the $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity and the $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie. It's supposed to be beautiful at Arlington Park. If only they could bottle that weather for Breeders' Cup Day four weeks from Saturday.

Batten down the hatches. Here we go.

Jockey Club Gold Cup

Milwaukee Brew, my pick here, will be making his first career start at Belmont in the Gold Cup, and if ever a horse looked tailor-made for Belmont, it's him.

Being the stone-cold stretch runner that he is, Milwaukee Brew will appreciate the sweeping turns and the long stretch of Belmont, both of which tend to negate issues such as traffic trouble and ground loss that often compromise closers.

Milwaukee Brew was compromised last time out in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, where the turns are tighter and the stretch is much shorter. Still, Milwaukee Brew did come from way back through traffic to fall only a little more than two lengths short.

Milwaukee Brew ran one of the best races by an older horse this year, winning the Santa Anita Handicap at the Gold Cup distance. Though he won't get as fast a pace Saturday as he did in the Big Cap, the presence of the speedy Abreeze suggests he will get at least a reasonable pace to set up his late kick.

I expect Repent to be the main threat to Milwaukee Brew. Repent ran a tremendous race to miss by just a half-length in the Travers off a 4 1/2-month layoff and the way he has worked recently indicates he is going to take another step forward. The fact that Repent is facing older horses for the first time is a non-issue. Came Home, who beat Milwaukee Brew and others when he won the Pacific Classic, is a 3-year-old.

Flower Bowl

Assuming that Banks Hill does not start, I like England's Legend. In my opinion, speed is never more dangerous on turf than it is on off turf. Closers expend extra energy just dealing with the footing, and they often cannot generate the momentum to effectively rally. England's Legend is unquestionably the main speed in the Flower Bowl.

Moreover, England's Legend is at her best on wet turf, as she demonstrated in her romp in last year's Beverly D., and in her victory in the Modesty in her first start this year. She is also sharp now, coming into the Flower Bowl off a close third in this year's Beverly D.

Most likely to challenge England's Legend early is Kazzia, winner of two classic races in England this year, and she may complete a two-speed Flower Bowl exacta.

Arlington-Washington Futurity

Godolphin may have a good one in here, Sharp Impact, but I'm taking a shot with Comic Truth.

Comic Truth became a new horse two starts ago after moving into the barn of Cole Norman, who is batting a heady .280 this year from around 750 starters, first winning a stakes at Louisiana Downs by almost seven, and then winning a stakes at Evangeline by nearly 14.

Comic Truth is facing better Saturday, but the Beyer Figures he has earned for Norman says he is ready for it.