09/22/2005 11:00PM

We need some answers


PHOENIX - Next Saturday is more than just a Breeders' Cup preview day. There are questions to be answered. Big questions.

* Jockey Club Gold Cup: Saint Liam is the horse to beat come the end of the month, but who's positioned to take a run at him? Well, 3-year-olds Flower Alley and Roman Ruler look quite nice, but taking on elders for the first time is a hefty chore indeed. Remember what happened to the very talented 3-year-old Surf Cat in the Pacific Classic. Borrego and Lava Man, winners of the Pacific Classic and Hollywood Gold Cup, respectively, look to prove they're not merely regional forces.

* Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational: How does Shakespeare really measure up against the best? With the defection of Kitten's Joy and with Better Talk Now awaiting the BC Turf, that question might not be answered.

There is intrigue, however. The top 3-year-old English Channel is supposed to give it a go. More interesting, however, is the presence of Ace from the powerhouse Aidan O'Brien barn. Ace's presence will be an excellent measuring stick for Shakespeare. Ace is a proven top-class performer, having finished fourth - ahead of top-class Azamour, Grey Swallow, and Norse Dancer - in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes on Sept. 10.

* Flower Bowl Invitational: Is Wonder Again ready to take it up a notch after a deceptively strong fourth in the Grade 1 Beverly D.? Is the 3-year-old Melhor Ainda, who ran even better in the Beverly D., as dominant a figure in her division this year as Kitten's Joy was in the male turf division last year? And what do we make of Angara, who beat them all at Arlington then was dull against the males?

* Beldame: The questions begin and end with Ashado. She looked every bit her powerful best for a couple of months but threw in one of the poorest races of her career last time out in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga. Maybe 10 furlongs at Saratoga isn't what she wants - after all, one of her other poorest outings came in last year's Alabama. If the real Ashado shows up, the rest are running for second.

* Vosburgh: Pico Central's recent retirement only adds to an already confusing scene. We know Lost in the Fog will go to the BC Sprint as the favorite, but unbeaten record and lofty reputation aside, he still hasn't run as fast as some of the other top sprinters or beaten a top 3-year-old.

Is Pomeroy finally ready to deliver on all that promise shown as a 3-year-old last year? Can Silver Wagon get back to the form that swept him to second place behind Ghostzapper in the Met Mile earlier this year? Can Unfurl the Flag transfer his sizzling Southern California speed to the East Coast? Can Woke Up Dreamin validate his ascension and prove that he's the horse to beat come the end of next month? Can Battle Won finally win a big one?

* Oak Leaf: Is Wild Fit ready to follow in the footsteps of Halfbridled and Sweet Catomine? Like those two, she powered home to win the Del Mar Debutante in dazzling fashion. Halfbridled and Sweet Catomine went on to win the Oak Leaf and the BC Juvenile Fillies. Wild Fit looks like she might follow in that mode, but has her form been bolstered by a seemingly suspect crop out West? Does she have enough to go get Adieu and Folklore, the Eastern leaders who will have a home-course advantage come BC Day?

* Goodwood: Can Rock Hard Ten come off the side of a milk carton and return to his dominant winter/spring form? After a super early-season campaign that made him the horse of the meet at Santa Anita, and then many setbacks, reports are he's working well. He's targeting this as his comeback, and trainer Dick Mandella knows about using this race to prep for the BC Classic. Two years ago, he brought back Pleasantly Perfect from an almost identical layoff, won the Goodwood, then won the BC Classic. But it's still a minefield from here to Oct. 29.