09/29/2004 11:00PM

Wonder Again primed for go at Flower Bowl

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The races in Saturday's all-Grade 1 pick four of the Flower Bowl, Vosburgh, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and Jockey Club Gold Cup all came up terrific betting races, and the results of at least three could strongly influence Eclipse Award voters regardless of what happens at the Breeders' Cup at Lone Star Park four weeks from now.

In chronological order:

Flower Bowl

After heavy rain on Tuesday and light showers Thursday, the best guess for turf course conditions is good to yielding, which is made to order for Wonder Again. As a 3-year-old she beat Riskaverse by a half-length on firm turf in the Grade 1 Garden City, so it's not imperative that she gets boggy going. Another plus: Wonder Again is a notoriously poor shipper, so her connections are full-throttle to win this race in her backyard.

Depending on how the pace unfolds, Moscow Burning could be tough to catch. She shipped in from California four months ago and stole the 1 3/8-mile Sheepshead Bay on this course. Against males in the Del Mar Handicap last out, she was the one chasing wire-to-wire winner Star Over the Bay. Her chances may depend on whether Aubonne, rank in two straight starts in France this spring, is allowed to contest the lead as she was in the slow-paced Beverly D.

Commercante classes up with most of these off her Group 3 win in France at this distance, and was an eye-catching winner of her U.S. debut back in May.

Vosburgh

Run at seven furlongs from 1940-2002, this venerable sprint was shortened from seven to 6 1/2 furlongs a year ago, and again to six furlongs this year in order to serve as a more attractive prep for the BC Sprint.

Speightstown has won all four of his starts this year by open lengths at four different tracks, and all Pico Central did this spring was win the Carter and the Met Mile with 116 Beyers back to back. Either could conceivably win the sprint championship Saturday, and both can be expected to fire their best shot - Speightstown, because that's what he does every time, and now is no time to mess around with an undefeated campaign, and Pico Central because he would have to supplement to the Sprint for $200,000, so he's no sure-fire starter at Lone Star.

Speightstown vs. Pico Central is a great matchup in its own right, but the Vosburgh also marks the first start for defending BC Sprint winner Cajun Beat since finishing fourth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen six months ago - and it will also be his first start for Bobby Frankel, whose best price-getting angle here this fall has been with layoff horses.

Joe Hirsch Turf Classic

What to do with the 3-year-old Kitten's Joy? Despite his 7-for-8 record on turf and a steadily ascending line of Beyer Speed Figures, I'm inclined to take a bet-against approach, and not because of the "Drifted out stretch" comment for his Secretariat line, which is erroneous. The chart footnote reads, " . . . rapidly closed the gap while angling four wide midway on the turn, charged to the front and drew off with authority under a vigorous hand ride." After clearing to the lead, Kitten's Joy actually shifted inward toward the rail.

Kitten's Joy received a 113 Beyer for running the Secretariat faster than the Arlington Million earlier on the card, but runner-up Greek Sun returned to run last in the Man o' War. That aside, Kitten's Joy was sitting behind a longshot pacesetter who went very fast early, and then inhaled the Secretariat field. This paceless edition of the Turf Classic is going to unfold more in the European style, and from upper stretch to the wire it's a question of who is the classiest horse with the strongest late burst of speed.

Based on his Man o' War, the best fit is Magistretti. Blocked with nowhere to go at the quarter pole, Magistretti found room passing the eighth pole and ran past the entire field, including favored Epalo, who was on a clear lead and appeared home free. It was the most breathtaking late run delivered by any horse on U.S. turf this season, and helped get trainer Patrick Biancone off to his 7-for-11 start at this meet.

Jockey Club Gold Cup

Technically, the richest and most prestigious race of the day, but this year's renewal is potentially less import on a national scale than any of the three stakes that precede it. Last year, Mineshaft overwhelmed four rivals at 1-5 to cap his Horse of the Year season, but whoever wins this running, no matter how impressively, will be no better than fifth choice should he go on to the BC Classic.

It's still a great betting race, made all the more intriguing by the presence of Love of Money, who tries Grade 1, older, and 10 furlongs in one fell swoop for a red-hot trainer sitting atop the meet standings. Love of Money got away with an easy lead in the Pennsylvania Derby, running his quarter, half and three-quarter splits slower than the Pennsylvania Oaks for fillies a race earlier. He may be hard-pressed to stave off Funny Cide, who figures to be on the muscle again.

A duel between those two may pave the way for Evening Attire, who is on the same schedule as in 2002, when he won the Saratoga Breeders' Cup and the Gold Cup. That remains Evening Attire's only Grade 1 win, but his 27 dirt starts in blinkers, beginning with a 65-1 upset of the Discovery Handicap three years ago, have produced 25 triple-digit Beyers, and his two best - 114 - have both come at this distance.