Not long after the Breeders' Cup debuted in 1984, Belmont Park's Fall Championship Meeting became a misnomer. Races that for so long had determined division titles were relegated to preps for new, seven-figure showdowns. That's why the Super Saturday card at Belmont, featuring six graded stakes worth $3.4 million, probably won't decide any Eclipse Awards.
The centerpiece is the 94th running of the $1-million, 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, featuring defending champion Flat Out, Santa Anita Handicap champion Ron the Greek and Whitney winner Fort Larned. The spectacular undercard includes four more Grade I's -- the 11/2-mile Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and 1 1/4-mile Flower Bowl, both on grass for $600,000; the 1 1/8-mile Beldame and 6-furlong Vosburgh, $400,000 each -- and the Grade II, $400,000 Kelso at a mile.
Bill Mott will saddle Flat Out and Ron the Greek, along with Royal Delta (Beldame) and To Honor and Serve (Kelso).
"On a day like this, I get excited and a little anxious,'' Mott said. "The hope is to see the horses run well, come out of the race good and go on to the big days [Nov. 2-3] at Santa Anita.''
Mott is renowned for patience and a knack for bringing horses to big races in peak form. "I guess the trick is to keep them going so they still have enough in the tank in the fall,'' he said.
Among the subplots are intriguing rematches in the Beldame (Royal Delta vs. It's Tricky) and the Kelso (To Honor and Serve vs. Shackleford).
"Royal Delta is a year older and more mature,'' Mott said. "Shackleford beat us in the Met Mile, but I felt like we didn't get the golden trip, and to beat that kind of horse, you need that.''
Ron the Greek (5-2 favorite) is a deep closer in a Gold Cup without much early speed. Stalker Flat Out (3-1) is 2-for-2 at Belmont and likes it wet. Trainer Ian Wilkes' Fort Larned (7-2) has gone wire to wire and might be on the lead by default.
"I'm a little apprehensive about getting caught up in who's going to be at 'the head of the class,' '' Wilkes said. "I'm just trying to look at it as we're trying to win another Grade I and then finish up the year in the Classic.''