09/24/2003 11:00PM

Watch Mineshaft, bet Ghostzapper


NEW YORK - Belmont Park virtually has the stage to itself when it comes to Saturday's stakes action. There are lucrative stakes at other tracks Saturday, like the $200,000 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap, the $150,000 Martha Washington Breeders' Cup Stakes at Pimlico, and the $150,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity and $100,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie at Arlington Park. But, no stakes on Saturday can match either the purse or the cachet of any one of the four Grade 1 races to be run at Belmont.

The big race at Belmont on Saturday is, of course, the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Gold Cup boasts perhaps the best horse in America in Mineshaft, and while the presence of Mineshaft means this Gold Cup isn't the greatest betting race in the world, it is always a treat to watch such a brilliant animal perform.

On the other hand, one could make Mineshaft a single, because the Gold Cup is part of an all-Grade 1 pick four that also includes the $750,000 Turf Classic Invitational, the $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational for females on turf, and the $500,000 Vosburgh, one of the premier sprint races in the nation.

Here are three stakes races I think provide interesting wagering opportunities:


Ghostzapper turned in a huge effort when a narrowly beaten third in the King's Bishop last time out, and is a strong play here despite moving in against older horses.

There are two reasons why Ghostzapper's performance in the King's Bishop was so impressive. First, the main track at Saratoga that day was decidedly speed favoring. Nevertheless, despite being a double-digit margin out of it early, and still eighth at the eighth pole, Ghostzapper finished like a rocket to be beaten only a half-length.

Second, at the time the King's Bishop was run, Ghostzapper's trainer, Bobby Frankel, was caught in a deep, uncharacteristic slump. That Ghostzapper ran as well as he did not only going against the grain of the track, but also when his barn couldn't buy a winner, was very much to his credit. Notably, Frankel is now back winning at his usual high clip at Belmont, having scored with four of his first 12 starters at the meet.

As for the older horses Ghostzapper faces, several of them have questions. Peeping Tom is coming off a layoff, My Cousin Matt looks to be off his best form, and it's hard to know what to expect from Gygistar these days.

Turf Classic

It is my duty to pick and bet against a horse like Sulamani, who was about fourth best in the Arlington Million, yet got the win on disqualification, and is sure to be well backed in this race.

The two logical alternatives are Polish Summer and Lunar Sovereign. Lunar Sovereign won the Man o' War most recently to remain unbeaten on Belmont turf. Polish Summer figures to be the bigger price of the two, so I'll take him.

Polish Summer wasn't in the same league as Sulamani in France, but Sulamani hasn't shown the same spark in his recent efforts. Polish Summer comes off two of the best efforts of his career, a second in a Group 1 and a first-place finish - he was subsequently disqualified - in a Group 2. Polish Summer is trained by Andre Fabre, who has a long history of sending live runners from France.

Martha Washington

I picked Sarie Marais two weeks ago in the Pucker Up at Arlington, and even though she finished last of 12, I'm going right back to her. Sarie Marais reared up in the gate just before the latch was sprung, got away terribly, and spotted the field an eight-length headstart. She steadied along the rail on the first turn, yet still moved up into contention on the rail down the backstretch before understandably running out of gas in the stretch.

Sarie Marais's race two starts back, her first in this country, was a solid one. She closed strongly to be second in a small stakes race at Monmouth despite slow early fractions. Her closing kick should serve her well in this race, given an abundance of early speed here.