Dozens of Breeders' Cup contenders will make their final tuneup this weekend before the championship event Oct. 26 and 27 at Monmouth Park.
There are 19 Grade I and Grade II stakes scheduled as well as many interesting smaller stakes. The races are clustered mainly at Belmont Park, Hawthorne, Santa Anita and Turfway Park.
A caveat for watching these preps is this: Try not to overemphasize the winners and downgrade the losers. The reason is simple: While a prep race is well worth winning, the ultimate goal is to reserve your best shot for four weeks from now at Monmouth Park. Chances are a few of the eventual Breeders' Cup winners will be horses that ran second, third or worse in a final prep.
As for the winners, some are coming under unfair criticism already for not destroying the opposition.
The best example of this is Any Given Saturday. He has been heavily criticized for an uninspiring win in the Brooklyn Handicap last week. Believe me, trainer Todd Pletcher could care less about the final time or his speed figure. Instead, he selected the path of least resistance. Any Given Saturday outclassed the Brooklyn field and now has room to improve going into the BC Classic.
You'll be seeing four major prep races leading toward the BC Classic.
The Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway is the marquee race of the weekend. Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Street Sense will face hard-luck Hard Spun.
Much has been made of Street Sense losing both his starts over Polytrack. Turfway also uses that synthetic surface. Clearly, trainer Carl Nafzger used both Polytrack starts to prepare for the following race, wins in the BC Juvenile and Kentucky Derby. History could repeat itself.
The Hawthorne Gold Cup will be a barometer for the Southern California handicap division. Student Council, upset winner of the Pacific Classic, will be favored at Hawthorne. He has the look of a late bloomer to fear down the road.
The Goodwood at Santa Anita is a wide-open race. Returning winner Lava Man appears to have slowed a step, making him vulnerable. Horses such as Arson Squad, Awesome Gem, Lewis Michael and Tiago can all win at fair odds.
Finally, the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Sunday could yield the BC Classic favorite in Lawyer Ron. Pletcher must make sure this colt does not peak too soon. His main foe will be Preakness winner Curlin. Curlin ran a dreary third in the Haskell but certainly could rebound Sunday.
Let me volunteer one long shot for the weekend: Izarra in the Oak Leaf. She will be running fastest in the stretch run.
• FALL CLASSIC -- The rich Fall Classic at The Orleans handicapping tournament runs Thursday through Oct. 6. The top 50 finishers will get a free berth into January's Horseplayer World Series.
• EXCALIBUR -- The free Wednesday win and quinella contest based on the Santa Anita races is also back.
Richard Eng's horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at email@example.com.