08/14/2005 11:00PM

Skilled rider all Powerscourt needed


NEW YORK - Things could have been very different last year for the Irish-based Powerscourt in this country's turf division were it not for jockey Jamie Spencer. As Powerscourt was drawing away to finish first in the 2004 Arlington Million, he lugged in under Spencer's right-handed whip, causing horses to his inside to take up. Spencer didn't do anything to help his mount maintain a straight course, and Powerscourt was subsequently disqualified in a call that was controversial only because it was so clear that he was still much the best horse.

That wasn't anything compared with how badly Powerscourt was "Spencerized" in the Breeders' Cup Turf. First, it should be noted that Powerscourt wasn't the only horse brutalized by Spencer on Breeders' Cup Day. Under Spencer, Mona Lisa broke in the air at the start of the Juvenile Fillies; Antonius Pius was checked on the first turn, checked on the far turn, and checked while lugging in through the stretch while beaten a half-length in the Mile; Yesterday dwelt at the start and was then rushed up before finishing a good fifth in the Filly and Mare Turf; and Scandinavia broke badly in the Juvenile.

But most of those weren't anything compared to what Spencer did to poor Powerscourt in the Turf. Powerscourt was left in the gate - the fourth horse under Spencer to suffer that fate that day - and then was put into a drive a half-mile too soon, as if Spencer had lost track of the finish line's location. When you consider that Powerscourt was beaten less than three lengths, you can argue that he should very well have won that Breeders' Cup Turf. A win in the Breeders' Cup Turf, plus an official win in the Arlington Million, would have made Powerscourt hard to deny a divisional Eclipse Award, no matter what kind of run Kitten's Joy enjoyed.

But that was then, and this is now. And now, Powerscourt has a different rider in Kieren Fallon. And now, after Saturday, Powerscourt has a real win in the Arlington Million.

It would be hard to envision Powerscourt winning if the Spencer seen in this country last year were still his pilot. Around the far turn and into the stretch, Powerscourt was trapped with a wall of four horses in front of him and three horses to his outside. This time, Fallon gave Powerscourt the help a good jockey should give his mount. Fallon was patient and even let Kitten's Joy get first run on him in the stretch, which was a gutsy move since Kitten's Joy was the odds-on favorite. But by allowing Kitten's Joy to clear, it opened a path for Powerscourt and Fallon to make a run. And what a run it was. Once in the clear, Powerscourt ran by Kitten's Joy as if he were standing still and crushed the best field of turf horses assembled in this country so far this year.

Powerscourt's big win Saturday has to be taken as an ominous sign for those inclined to root for the home team in the Breeders' Cup Turf. There are several older horses and a number of 3-year-olds in Europe who are rated superior to Powerscourt. Not all European horses can come to this country and duplicate their overseas form. Some do as well, some do worse, and some, like Powerscourt, seem to do better here than back home. But for Powerscourt to come here and win the Million the way he did sends a strong signal that European horses should be given the utmost respect come Breeders' Cup time, especially since this Breeders' Cup will be at Belmont Park, where the climate and large configuration of the track are European friendly.

The obvious disappointment in the Million was Kitten's Joy, who had no answer for Powerscourt late and who just held onto second in a three-way photo. There are two ways to assess the status of last year's champion turf horse. You could say that having only a single one-mile race in eight months going into the Million left Kitten's Joy a bit short and that he hasn't reached peak form yet. Or, you could say hold on, the nature of turf racing (slow paces, forgiving surface) means turf horses don't have to race their way into form. It's possible that, with his offseason knee surgery, Kitten's Joy may not be what he was last year. Either way, Kitten's Joy's next performance will be crucial.

The other stunning performance over the weekend was the big win in Saturday's Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga by Pomeroy, the first half of a stakes double for trainer Patrick Biancone, who less than a half-hour later upset Arlington's Beverly D. with Angara. Pomeroy's emphatic Vanderbilt score after disputing a fast pace came at a critical time. If you believe, like me, that Lost in the Fog still has quite a bit to prove, then you might agree that the sprint division is more unsettled at this point in the season than it has been in years. If a sprinter can get hot, like Pomeroy, and keep it going for just a few more months, then that's all it would take to make off with a divisional title.