08/30/2002 12:00AM

Repent will go in Jockey Club Gold Cup, then Classic

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Ken McPeek has selected the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 28 for Repent's next and final start before the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"If he's going to run again before the Breeders' Cup, it will be the Jockey Club Gold Cup," McPeek confirmed shortly after Repent returned from a routine gallop on Friday morning. "The distance, the status of the race, the fact he likes Belmont, and the timing are all perfect for him. Ten furlongs is his game, it's a Grade 1 race and it gives him four weeks before the Breeders' Cup. The only way he won't run is if I don't like the way he's doing or if he goes off his feed."

McPeek said Repent has thrived since his second-place finish behind Medaglia d'Oro in the Travers. "He's going great, the Travers didn't knock him out at all," said McPeek. "I'm a big believer in watching the feed tub and he's been cleaning right up every night."

McPeek said he will ship Repent, Take Charge Lady, and 14 others to Belmont next Wednesday.

Mott and Pletcher neck and neck

The battle for leading trainer figures to come right down to closing day with Todd Pletcher holding a one-win advantage over perennial leader Bill Mott entering the final three programs of the meet.

Mott has won the last three Saratoga training titles and has won or shared the championship eight times since 1992. Pletcher was leading trainer here in 1998.

"I'd like to win it for bragging rights more than anything else," said Pletcher. "Of all the meets this one seems to draw the most attention. And from a competitive standpoint it adds a lot of excitement for both me and the staff. It gives everyone a lot more motivation. And on the heels of everything that has happened to us here this meet it would be very satisfying."

Pletcher has had a roller-coaster meet. His 18 wins include victories by Freedom's Daughter in the Schuylerville and Left Bank in the Grade 1 Whitney. But his success was tempered by the deaths of Freedom's Daughter and Warners and the career-ending bout of colic suffered by Left Bank shortly after the Whitney.

"Winning 40 races here wouldn't make up for all that's happened, but the fact the trainers' title is so close helps draw attention away from some of that negative stuff."

Mott agreed with Pletcher when it came to winning the title.

"I'd like to win another for bragging rights if nothing else, although it's been a good meet, win or lose," said Mott. "Everybody at the barn takes a little pride in it."

Left Bank on the mend on the farm

Pletcher said Left Bank continues to progress and was shipped from a clinic in Massachusetts to Ashford Stud in Kentucky on Tuesday.

"He arrived safely and continues to improve physically every day," Pletcher said. "He's lost a little weight, I guess, but that can be expected considering all he went through."

Pletcher was also pleased with Harmony Lodge's easy victory over odds-on favorite Spring Meadow in a third-level allowance on Thursday.

"When she's at her best she's run some very big races," said Pletcher. "We always felt she was top class, but illness and a skin disease have held her back. We'll certainly be looking for a stakes for her, although where or when I'm not sure just yet."

It'a a Giggle okay after Turf Writers

Defending champion It's a Giggle, who left the course following the eighth jump as the 6-5 favorite in Thursday's Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Handicap, returned none the worse for wear, trainer Jonathan Sheppard reported on Friday.

"He wasn't handling the ground; he wasn't going anywhere," said Sheppard, who was seeking his 12th New York Turf Writers Cup victory. "I was very concerned about running him when the course came up soft. I had a bad feeling about it. But when you're 6-5 in a $100,000 race, it's hard to tell the owner you're not going to run because you think the horse might not handle it. I thought Gus [Brown] showed extremely good judgment pulling him up once he realized the horse could not finish in the top three. Sometimes it's difficult for the bettors to understand but you can do serious damage to both horse and rider making an exhausted horse try to jump those last couple of hurdles. And nobody wants to see that."

Sheppard said he will point It's a Giggle for the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase at Fair Hills but won't run his horse over anything but firm ground.

Meanwhile Sheppard saluted the performance of Zabenz, the New Zealand-bred who returned on just one week's rest to win the Turf Writers.

"Take nothing away from the winner," said Sheppard. "He's a good horse who was well prepared for the race and one we'll have to take seriously in the future."

Booklet still a couple of months away

While Harlan's Holiday will ship to Philadelphia Park to launch his comeback in Monday's Pennsylvania Derby, his arch-rival Booklet has only just begun getting ready for his return.

Booklet, who defeated Harlan's Holiday in the Holy Bull and Grade 1 Fountain of Youth Stakes this winter at Gulfstream, has not started since finishing up the track in the Preakness. He worked for the first time earlier this week, but remains about two months away from a start.

"He's at least 45-60 days away from a race," trainer John Ward Jr. said. "I was very pleased with his first work and hopefully he'll continue to progress from there. He really had no problems when we stopped on him. As the old-time trainers would say, he was nothing more than track sore from too much racing over too many hard tracks early this season. We're not setting any goals or making any plans for him at this time. We'll just let him get himself ready and then figure out what to do when the time comes."