10/04/2006 11:00PM

Vosburgh the most intriguing of Grade 1's


ELMONT, N.Y. - If you're going to pick one day to attend the races at Belmont's fall meet, Saturday's power-packed program of five Grade 1 stakes is the one. They comprise races 6-10, in chronological order as follows:

Beldame: Morning-line favorite Fleet Indian is 5 for 5 by a combined 31 lengths this year, including a Beyer Speed Figure of 112 in April. Since then, her figures have moderated to 102-106-103 when she was left in complete control of the early pace, twice at Delaware Park and in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga, where she was able to dole out extremely slow splits that gave her a tactical edge over Balletto.

Earlier this season, the late-running Balletto faced a similar predicament in her first three starts back from an extended layoff when she chased lone speed Take D' Tour.

Now, Balletto may benefit from a pace scenario where Fleet Indian, Take D' Tour, and Teammate all project to be involved early. The most vulnerable among the pace trio could be Fleet Indian, who has not had to run faster than 1:12 to the pace call in seven route wins since last fall.

Flower Bowl: The five most likely contenders earned virtually identical Beyer Figures last time out. Things are further complicated by the fact that there is no clear-cut pacesetter.

As the first leg of the late pick four, this looks like a spread, unless you want to take the position that, for once, Film Maker is not going to run into some kind of trouble.

In terms of making a betting line, Honey Ryder and Latice finished one-two in last year's Grade 1 E.P. Taylor at this 10-furlong distance, but each has seemed to thrive in longer races. Because of that, I would set their minimum required odds slightly higher than the top three as follows: Film Maker (3-1), Argentina (5-1), Angara (5-1), Honey Ryder (6-1), Latice (6-1).

Vosburgh: This is the most interesting race on the card, because this is where we find out how good Henny Hughes really is. Henny Hughes blew away 3-year-olds with impressive bursts of speed through the fifth furlong in the Jersey Shore and the King's Bishop, but seasoned older rivals Silver Train and War Front will be more difficult to discourage from the quarter pole to midstretch.

Henny Hughes has never had a problem handling inside posts, but he has never faced sprinters as salty as this, and he is under the gun from the rail. Meanwhile, Silver Train drew the catbird seat on the outside in a five-horse field, which gives Edgar Prado all the options.

Moreover, the Vosburgh is not being viewed as a Breeders' Cup prep by Silver Train's connections, who want to capitalize on their colt's affinity for Belmont Park.

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: English Channel has been freshened since finishing fourth in the Arlington Million. After winning the Secretariat on Million Day as a 3-year-old, he fell just a head short in this race off an identical layoff, so this is a familiar and successful form pattern.

English Channel is hands-down the best of the American-based runners, but his headstrong tendencies are worrisome in a 12-furlong test of stamina like the Turf Classic.

The fillies Freedonia and Royal Highness and the 3-year-old Frost Giant don't have strong profiles compared to Europeans of Turf Classics past, but if English Channel doesn't settle early, any among them might be capable of pulling an upset.

Jockey Club Gold Cup: In 2003, Mineshaft cemented his Horse of the Year campaign by winning this race at 2-5. Bernardini is likely to be a similar price against Wanderin Boy and Andromeda's Hero, two older runners trained by Nick Zito who seem overmatched, and Dylan Thomas, a classy turf horse in Europe who may be out of his element on dirt.

If Dylan Thomas does reproduce his best form, though, one thing he has going for him is battle toughness forged from stretch battles in the Epsom Derby and the Irish Champion Stakes against the likes of top-class older mare Ouija Board.

If Dylan Thomas can settle into a good early position and look Bernardini in the eye turning for home, this will be an interesting Gold Cup, because no one on these shores has been able to do that so far. More likely, Bernardini's courage under duress will not be measured until Breeders' Cup Day, and perhaps not even then.