09/27/2006 11:00PM

Take BC prep results with a grain of salt


ELMONT, N.Y. - My handicapping head is bursting at the seams, which, I suspect, is the case with most observers trying to keep pace with the key Breeders' Cup preps about to be run rapid-fire. Word of advice: As the superlatives are heaped upon prep winners in the ensuing avalanche of media coverage, look for reasons to expect different outcomes on Cup Day.

When the dust had settled on last year's Cup, taking the contrary approach in the many rematch situations was the right thing to do about two-thirds of the time; if Horse A beat Horse B in a prep, B usually got revenge. To briefly recall:

Juvenile - Stevie Wonderboy won off a 52-day layoff, but completing the exacta at 9-1 was Henny Hughes, who turned the tables on Hopeful/Champagne winner First Samurai.

Filly and Mare Turf - Intercontinental, who had been rank in a number of shorter routes during the year, stretched out to 10 furlongs and rated beautifully on the lead at 15-1.

Mile - Leroidesanimaux looked rock-solid off a tour de force Atto Mile, but was announced on race day as wearing aluminum pads, forcing many to rethink their wagering strategies on the fly. At less than 100 percent, he was outkicked by second choice Artie Schiller.

Distaff - Pleasant Home, with one Grade 3 win to her credit, blew the race apart at 30-1. Meanwhile, the 1-2-3-4 finishers from the Beldame finished 3-11-2-9; the 1-3-4 finishers from the Lady's Secret finished 13-10-8.

Turf - The 1-2-3 finishers from the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic finished 12-5-2. All you had to do to snag the $4,694 superfecta was box the four Europeans.

Classic - The 1-2-3-4 finishers from the Jockey Club Gold Cup ran 10-5-9-2. After finishing 15 lengths behind Borrego in the Gold Cup, Flower Alley beat that rival by nine lengths in the Classic - a 24-length turnaround.

Watch the preps carefully, but make sure to factor in stable intent, and avoid making premature conclusions pending late-breaking weather conditions, the post-position draw, scratches, and equipment changes.

Here are some highlights to look for next Saturday in the key Grade 1 preps at Belmont:

Jockey Club Gold Cup - Everyone wants to see how Bernardini will respond when the older Invasor looks him in the eye, because Invasor will be the best horse he has faced by a wide margin. Then again, Bernardini will be a tougher customer than anyone Invasor met in the Pimlico Special, Suburban, and Whitney.

Beldame - Fleet Indian has won her last seven starts by an average of six lengths. But she had things her own way dictating the pace in her two most important victories, the Delaware Handicap and the Personal Ensign, and in Take D' Tour she will meet someone who has more early speed than she does. A fascinating matchup, even though Take D' Tour tailed off after winning the Shuvee and the Ogden Phipps.

Vosburgh - After running 3-year-old sprinters off their feet in two starts during the summer, Henny Hughes gets a real test against the older Silver Train, whose Beyers at Belmont the past 12 months are 115-112-114-110. Henny Hughes will not easily discourage Silver Train, whose tenacity under fire (three biggest career wins by margins of a neck or less), at least at Belmont, is underrated.

With Discreet Cat looming at 1-5 in Sunday's Jerome, and not going to the Breeders' Cup, there's not much in the way of BC implications at Belmont this weekend, unless Art Master, making his U.S. debut, should jump up and run huge in Saturday's Kelso Handicap.

"When he first got here he couldn't breeze a half-mile in better than 52," said Bobby Frankel. "He really started to come around when I was in Saratoga. They just sent him over here because he ran bad last time out. All you can do is go off the form he's shown until he runs here. This race isn't all that tough."

This not-so-tough renewal of the Kelso contains none of the top Mile contenders, but kicks off a $400,000-guaranteed NTRA National Pick 4. In terms of instant gratification, that makes it an interesting race from the standpoint that Ashkal Way, who was life-and-death to edge 6-year-old journeyman Dreadnaught (1 for 13 the last two years) in the Bernard Baruch, will probably be an underlay. He has no significant edge over the likes of Drum Major, Free Thinking, or Old Forester, should any of those second-tier runners fire their best shot.