The nation's best older horses clash on two fronts this weekend with more at stake than simply the purse values.
Today's $250,000 Washington Park Handicap and tomorrow's $500,000 Woodward Stakes will serve as critical preps to the world's richest race, the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 2. In the Woodward, the 10th and final leg of the American Championship Racing Series, a $750,000 bonus is at stake between Farma Way and Festin, tied with 40 points apiece atop the ACRS point standings.
In an unusual reunion, Unbridled, Summer Squall and Go And Go -- winners of the 1990 Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, respectively -- are among six entered in the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington International Racecourse. The purse was increased from $100,000 when it became apparent that such a top-class field would convene.
The Washington Park Handicap, named for Arlington's defunct Chicago neighbor, will be simulcast as the 11th race to Pimlico Race Course and the Laurel intertrack outlet. The Flower Bowl Handicap simulcast from Belmont Park is the ninth at Pimlico, and the $100,000 Columbia Stakes is the 10th.
Although the winners of the 1990 Triple Crown events are accounted for, Black Tie Affair may be the favorite. In his last start, Black Tie Affair won the Iselin Handicap, ninth leg of the ACRS, with Farma Way second.
Tomorrow at Belmont Park, if Farma Way finishes ahead of Festin, he will capture first place in the ACRS bonus chase. Same goes for Festin over Farma Way.
But the most important issues to be settled may be:
* How In Excess, the likely Woodward favorite, matches up with the nation's best after hitting peak form;
* Whether Strike the Gold can emerge from a slump that has seen him lose four races since he won the Kentucky Derby in May;
* And how each of the contenders exit the race in regard to the Breeders' Cup.
"The Woodward is an important race," said Nick Zito, trainer of Strike the Gold. "You can't duck the big boys."
In post position order, the 1 1/8 -mile Woodward field: Crackedbell, Strike the Gold, In Excess, Jolie's Halo, Farma Way, Killer Diller and Festin.
In their last race at Belmont Park, Festin trounced Farma Way in the Nassau County Handicap after Farma Way contested a fast pace with Jolie's Halo.
Festin worked a half-mile in 46 1/5 seconds yesterday. His trainer, Ron McAnally, said, "He's fresh and ready to roll. We haven't squeezed all the juice from the lemon yet."
The Columbia Stakes, a six-furlong race for 3-year-old fillies, shapes up as a "Come-Catch-Me" affair for the local filly, Devilish Touch. Her main opposition should come from Missy's Mirage, a steady New Yorker, and Withallprobability, a D. Wayne Lukas trainee who will be ridden by Chris McCarron.
NOTES: ABC-TV will provide live coverage of the Woodward. Post time is set for 3:40 p.m. . . . The Columbia is a Grade III race, 1 of just 2 scheduled for the current 25-day Pimlico meeting. The Oct. 5 Polynesian Handicap, also a Grade III is the other. . . . Kent Desormeaux, the former Maryland star, travels from California to ride Go And Go today for Lukas. . . . Unbridled and Summer Squall, both based in the Midwest, are scheduled to race once more before the Breeders' Cup if all goes well. They could meet again in the Fayette Handicap Oct. 6 at Keeneland Race Course. . . . The last time separate winners of the three Triple Crown races met after the series was in 1982, when Gato Del Sol, Aloma's Ruler and Conquistador Cielo ran later that year in the Travers Stakes. Runaway Groom won. . . . In the unlikely event that neither Festin or Farma Way finishes as high as fifth, then first and second money ($1.125 million) of the $1.5 million bonus pool will be split between them. . . . An overflow field of 15, including 2 stable couplings, is set for the Flower Bowl.