10/03/2002 12:00AM

Preps can do more harm than good


ELMONT, N.Y. - With the Breeders' Cup three weeks away, virtually every major track in the United States is devoting its weekend programs to prep races, designed to help bring the participating horses to their goal in the sharpest possible condition.

But are we going about this exercise the correct way? In seeking to sharpen horses with these preps, are we instead dulling some of them? Jerry Bailey, a keen observer of the racing scene, thinks we are.

"Speaking generally, it seems to me that the fresher you can keep a horse during the last month and a half before the Breeders' Cup, the better off they are in Breeders' Cup competition," Bailey said the other day.

"A case in point occurred just last year. I rode Aptitude to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup by 10 lengths. It was a big performance, and if he could have reproduced it in the Breeders' Cup Classic three weeks later, I believe he'd have won, though there were some new faces in the Classic who ran well.

"But Aptitude couldn't put two superior races back to back so quickly," Bailey added. "He wasn't the same horse in the Classic and finished eighth."

Cigar was one horse who could put outstanding races together, Bailey noted. In 1995, Cigar won the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park and three weeks later was a comfortable winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic with Bailey aboard.

One horse well served by his prep race last season, according to Bailey, was Squirtle Squirt. He was good in the seven-furlong Vosburgh, and had the lead at the six-furlong pole. Four weeks later, he finished full of run to capture the six-furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint, beating such rapid runners as Xtra Heat and Caller One.

Lailani, on the other hand, used herself up in winning the Flower Bowl Invitational. She beat two top fillies that day, England's Legend and Starine, but was flat and disappointing in the Filly and Mare Turf four weeks later, finishing eighth.

Extra time between a prep race and the goal can make a difference, said Bailey, who has ridden a dozen winners of the Breeders' Cup.

Consider Black Tie Affair, in 1991, who was sharp in mid-September, winning the nine-furlong Washington Park Handicap by more than seven lengths. Seven weeks later, leading all the way at 1 1/4 miles, he won the Breeders' Cup Classic, beating the highly regarded Twilight Agenda.

Remembering Walter Annenberg

Walter Annenberg paid attention to all his properties and he read every page of Daily Racing Form every day from the time he inherited it in 1942 until he sold it and other properties to Rupert Murdoch in 1988. Walter Annenberg died on Tuesday at the age of 94.

He set high standards and saw to it they were maintained, but he was always fair and understanding. I worked for him for 40 years and found him to be one of the most impressive men I ever met.

His passion was philanthropy and he worked at it with unparalleled zeal. He gave hundreds of millions to schools, universities, and museums to record and teach the progress of mankind.

He was a man of considerable charm, with a keen sense of humor. He loved stories and one he recalled on occasion was his father's purchase of Daily Racing Form in 1922. Frank Brunnel, the founder of the paper, decided to sell and retire. He set the price of $400,000 but insisted it be in cash.

Moses Annenberg agreed, and brought his 14-year-old son, Walter, with him to the meeting in New York. They stopped first at a bank on 34th Street and Eighth, where a bundle of $400,000 was wrapped in newspaper. Walter Annenberg carried the package to Brunnel's office, where the sale was completed. The first year of operation under the Annenberg management resulted in a profit of $400,000.