10/02/2005 11:00PM

Perfect prep for Rock Hard Ten

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Shakespeare cleared several hurdles to win the Joe Hirsch.

NEW YORK - Thoughts after some of the many important Breeders' Cup prep races from last weekend:

Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap: Rock Hard Ten was very, very good winning over Roman Ruler in his first start since March, and will be very tough in the Breeders' Cup Classic because, as prep races go, this was a perfect one. Although Rock Hard Ten ran fast enough to have earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 112, the early pace was slow, and he really only had to run in spots to get the job done. Roman Ruler ran well, too. He is probably not as effective making the pace, but that is where he found himself when Total Impact was inexplicably taken hold of out of the gate. But as well as Roman Ruler ran, there appears to be uncertainty concerning his commitment to the Breeders' Cup, with the Classic's 1 1/4-mile distance being the big stumbling block.

Jockey Club Gold Cup: You have to hand it to Borrego. He put two big stakes victories together (he won the Pacific Classic in his prior start), he turned a competitive race on paper into a total blowout, and he would have won by at least twice the 4 1/2-length margin if he hadn't been completely shut down in the late stages. But it would be easier to feel a lot better about Borrego if even just one of his key Gold Cup opponents was better than dreadful Saturday. Sun King finished third (beaten a time zone) only because some horse had to finish third. Flower Alley was so rank he dueled early with his rabbit. Imperialism only gave credence to the notion that he's a closing sprinter. And Lava Man surrendered so meekly, and was beaten so badly, that it's fair to wonder if there wasn't a more substantial reason why he was vanned off after his third in the Pacific Classic.

Bay Meadows Speed Handicap: Lost in the Fog made it 10 for 10, and did so in a race that for the first time in his life included older opponents. Of course, as has been the case in most of his races, Lost in the Fog's opposition was, to put it kindly, weak. Not one of the four he beat Saturday was a graded stakes winner. One, in fact, was claimed for $6,250 two months ago. But Lost in the Fog did what a horse with his reputation is supposed to do, which is to win big. The funny thing is, at the rate the sprint division is going, the Breeders' Cup Sprint may not be all that much tougher than this race was. For a sense of that, check out the . . .

Vosburgh: Not to take anything away from Taste of Paradise, who showed the affinity for Belmont Park that his trainer, Gary Mandella, said he would, and who scored as the longest shot on the board at 26-1, but this was an ugly, ugly race. Mass Media never lifted a hoof. It was all Unfurl the Flag could do to move into third for an instant on the far turn, and then he was done. Pomeroy showed no rush-up zip at all after a sluggish start. And Woke Up Dreamin managed to beat only the all-but-eased Uncle Camie, and was retired on Sunday. Yikes.

Beldame: Ashado regained winning form and now seems in position to defend her title in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but the revelation here was Happy Ticket. In her first career attempt at a race as far as 1 1/8 miles, Happy Ticket was put into a drive on the far turn, was briefly trapped behind horses into the stretch, and then once clear, she steadily slashed into Ashado's lead. Society Selection middle-moved while again lacking a real pace to rally into, but she was flat in the stretch. So was the previously undefeated Sweet Symphony, who found the jump from a 3-year-old stakes like the Alabama into a race like this too tough to make.

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: This was a serious struggle for Shakespeare, but he was caught four wide around the far turn, he had to put in an extended run, and he was jumping up in distance from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles. So, the fact that he remained undefeated is very encouraging. English Channel was terrific to be beaten just a head as a 3-year-old facing older horses, and Ace ran well to be a close third considering that forcing the pace is certainly not his most effective running style.

Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship: Fourty Niners Son capitalized on a perfect trip, something that he sorely lacked when he should have finished second instead of third to Powerscourt in the Arlington Million, and just cruised to a decisive victory. While it is true that the group Fourty Niners Son defeated Sunday was not a particularly strong one, it should be noted that Fourty Niners Son is a vastly improved gelding in the care of trainer Neil Drysdale, who accomplished one of the greatest training feats in the history of the Breeders' Cup when he sent out Prized to win the Turf in 1989 in his first career start on grass. So, if you ignore Fourty Niners Son on Oct. 29 at Belmont Park, you do so at your own risk.