ELMONT, N.Y. -- Facing a critical test in his quest for year-end honors, Lemon Drop Kid meets older horses for the first time today in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
Owned by part-time Maryland residents Jinny Vance and Laddie Dance, Lemon Drop Kid has won New York's premier spring and summer races, the Belmont and Travers Stakes. Now he tries to capture the fall feature -- and sweep the state's three $1 million races. But he'll have to defeat Behrens, the country's No. 1-ranked horse, to do it.
By beating horses his same age in the Belmont and Travers, Lemon Drop Kid became the front-runner for the Eclipse Award as the country's top 3-year-old male. If he knocks off Behrens, a battle-tested 5-year-old, he will become a strong candidate for Horse of the Year.
"He's coming into the race as good as a horse can," said his Hall of Fame trainer, Scotty Schulhofer. "But we're going into the unknown now. I'm not overly confident he can beat Behrens, but I'd like to try."
H. James Bond, trainer of Behrens, exudes confidence. His horse has finished first or second in seven straight races. His gamest performance might have been his last race, the Whitney Handicap Aug. 1 at Saratoga. Fanned five wide, Behrens engaged Victory Gallop in a dramatic stretch duel that ranks as the race of the year.
Bond is not concerned about the long layoff. He's not concerned about Behrens' lack of training over the Belmont surface; he's training the horse at Saratoga.
And he's not concerned about Schulhofer's claim that Lemon Drop Kid is "as good a horse as I've been around." Schulhofer has trained four Eclipse Award winners.
"I have the utmost respect for Scotty, but Lemon Drop Kid has got to step up to the plate," Bond said. "He's run some A races. He's going to have to run A-plus races to win against older horses."
One thing Bond is concerned about is the forecast for rain, even though Behrens has shown he can handle the slop. Lemon Drop Kid does not like the mud.
"I just hope the weather holds out," Bond said. "I don't want excuses or anything from anyone."
The Jockey Club Gold Cup is the centerpiece of Breeders' Cup Preview Weekend at this grand old track on Long Island: three Grade I stakes today and two yesterday. Designed as the final steppingstone to the Breeders' Cup series Nov. 6 at Gulfstream Park, the races traditionally attract the nation's best horses.
Winners of the Jockey Club Gold Cup include Man o'War, Citation, Kelso, Forego, Affirmed and Cigar. In its 80 runnings, 34 3-year-olds have prevailed, the latest being Skip Away in 1996.
In today's other top-rated stakes, the 3-year-old filly Silverbulletday takes on older horses for the first time in the $500,000 Beldame Stakes, and five promising 2-year-old fillies contest the $400,000 Frizette Stakes.
All three races will be televised by NBC starting at 2: 30 p.m.
Yesterday, Greenwood Lake gave trainer Nick Zito his second straight victory in the $400,000 Champagne Stakes. Zito's The Groom Is Red won last year.
Flying from the back of the seven-horse pack on the far outside, the 6-1 Greenwood Lake overtook Chief Seattle in deep stretch and drew off to win the 1 1/16-mile race by 2 1/2 lengths. Ridden by Edgar Prado, Chief Seattle held on for second. High Yield finished third, and the 7-5 favorite More Than Ready faded to fifth.
"He just didn't fire," said John Velazquez, More Than Ready's jockey. "He broke flat, and once the dirt hit him in the face it took him even more off his game."
Although the Breeders' Cup Juvenile distance of 1 1/8 miles would seem to suit Greenwood Lake, Zito said he had some serious thinking to do before committing to the race.
"If he's not 100 percent perfect, we're not going," Zito said. "I don't want to do something to hurt this horse next year."
Also yesterday, Val's Prince stamped himself as perhaps the country's top turf runner with a victory in the $600,000 Turf Classic Invitational, his second straight Grade I conquest.
As the 3-1 third choice in the betting, Val's Prince held off late-charging Dream Well by one length. Yagli, the 8-5 favorite, finished a dull fourth.
Pub Date: 10/10/99