10/23/2002 11:00PM

As usual, Classic the highlight of Cup


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The $4 million Classic, which tops Saturday's Breeders' Cup program at Arlington Park, has consistently produced some remarkable racing.

It would be difficult to cite a more competitive finish than the one two years ago in which America's Tiznow held on gamely to prevail by a neck over the brilliant Irish colt Giant's Causeway.

But last year's finish, in which Tiznow rose to new heights while defeating the lion-hearted Sakhee by a nose, may have been a shade more dramatic.

Ferdinand beat Alysheba by a nose in a classic Classic of 1987, and there have been many others to list in the glory book. This is a prize worth winning, and the effort that is put into it each year underlines the value of a victory.

Bobby Frankel has focused on this prize in earnest. He tried winning the Classic via the prep-race route, and now he will try it with training. He appears to have the horse to beat in Medaglia d'Oro, who showed his quality at Saratoga with definitive scores in the Jim Dandy and Travers. Medaglia d'Oro hasn't started since late August, but Frankel is confident he is fit and ready to run the race of his career.

Medaglia d'Oro will need all his resources. There are a number of good ones lined up against him. Came Home and War Emblem, prominent members of their generation, are coming to the Classic as legitimate dangers. Came Home's credentials were endorsed with a victory over older horses in the Pacific Classic.

War Emblem should probably have passed the Pacific Classic but appears to have rebounded in spirit with some time off. He has trained forwardly, and Bob Baffert feels his speed will enable him to mount a major challenge.

Another 3-year-old who could be a factor is Perfect Drift. Third in the Kentucky Derby, he had his problems in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Murray Johnson freshened him and brought him back for a sharp tally in the Indiana Derby. Perfect Drift's forte is a strong finish, and with prospects of a lively pace from War Emblem, Perfect Drift could be running over horses at the end.

The 4-year-old Evening Attire may pose the greatest threat to Medaglia d'Oro. A genuine and consistent warrior, he has matured this season as underlined by his strong win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He has trained well for Pat Kelly and should be a formidable presence in the drive.

The remainder of the Breeders' Cup program should be equally entertaining. High Chaparral, who won the Epsom and Irish derbies, looks like the class of the Turf. He'll face competition from Denon, the Turf Classic winner, and Golan, hero of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Sky Mesa, Vindication, and Whywhywhy are attractive 2-year-olds. With a full field of 14 in prospect, racing luck will be very important in determining the outcome of the Juvenile.

Golden Apples, the Beverly D. and Yellow Ribbon winner, should be hard to beat in the Filly and Mare Turf. Banks Hill, who won this race last year, merits respect, and so does Islington, winner of the Yorkshire Oaks.

The Sprint looks like one of the best races of the day. Orientate is a legitimate favorite, but expect strong efforts from Xtra Heat, Bonapaw, and Kona Gold.

Rock of Gibraltar, with seven consecutive Group 1 victories to his credit, appears the class of the Mile. Beat Hollow, the Arlington Million winner, and Good Journey, the Atto Mile winner, could make strong challenges.

Storm Flag Flying heads a talented field in the Juvenile Fillies. Composure and Santa Catarina appear the best of the others.

Farda Amiga impressed in winning the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes and we like her to win a contentious Distaff. Azeri is in great form to challenge, and so is Take Charge Lady.