Elmont, NY--Going into the Jockey Club Gold Cup, racing fans had to wonder whether they were looking at a present and perhaps future true star as Lawyer Ron stepped onto the track in the centerpiece of Belmont Parks Breeders Cup Preview program.

And what a long, strange trip its been.

There were all those speed crazy wins at Oaklawn Park en route to last years Kentucky Derby. No matter how much Bob Holthus and John McKee tried to slow him down, they couldnt. But even though he was headstrong to a fault, he would win anyway.

Then came the Kentucky Derby. Tough post, tougher trip. He finished nowhere.

After some R & R, he reappeared in the St. Louis Derby. I didnt remember there was such a thing. However, there he was, and he won it, looking a little more settled, a little more mature, in the process.

But then came the Super Derby where he reverted to his headstrong ways. He opened a clear lead, setting a strong pace for the Louisiana Downs surface and could not hold Strong Contender safe as the odds-on choice.

Exit Holthus. Enter Todd Pletcher, at first, to no avail. Even more headstrong in Louisville than he was in Bossier City, he chased speedy fractions again before finishing off the board behind Invasor, Bernardini and Premium Tap in the Horse of the Year crowning Breeders Cup Classic.

At 4 he came out firing for Pletcher. A little more settled, he won an allowance come-backer in Florida before shipping back to his old Oaklawn stomping grounds and won the Grade 2 Oaklawn Park Handicap by open lengths. Clearly, he had made the transition from 3 to 4.

Turning back in distance for the Met Mile off an Oaklawn two-turner was near impossible, especially with a streaking Corinthian waiting in the wings. But after mid-moving from the rail to take the lead between calls, finishing third to Corinthian by little more than a length was at least a moral victory.

Entering him back in three weeks in the G3 Salvator Mile made no sense, unless, of course, youve got the Classic in mind. Lawyer Ron finished second to a hot, streaking Monmouth lover named Gottcha Gold.

Back with rest for the storied Whitney in Saratoga, he blew the doors off 10 rivals running nine furlongs faster than anyone in this history of Saratoga ever did. For an encore, he doubled his Whitney winning margin to win the Woodward by 8- lengths as he widened his lead with every stride. In its way, it was more impressive.

So, Lawyer Ron reached his full potential in Saratoga as a 4-year-old. Or is he simply a horse for the Spa course, albeit a great one? A new training style employed by a new teacher, added maturity. Budding superstar, or equine flavor of the month? That was the Jockey Club question.

As it turned out, however, Pletcher was right. Dont know why everyones down on Curlin, the trainer said this week. I dont see how you can say anything bad about whats done or what he will do in the future.

Like pull the minor upset in the JCGC at Pletchers direct expense and run himself right back into the Horse of the Year picture.

It was a finish that didnt deserve a loser as the 3-year-old and the 4-year-old raced head to head down the long Belmont straight. Only this time, it was Steve Asmussens horse on the outside, it was the Asmussen horse that would win this photo, just as the Pletcher trained filly Rags to Riches won the Belmont Stakes photo, a picture that would have made Curlin the protem Horse of the Year champion following the Jockey Club.

With the popular Street Sense tasting defeat Saturday at Turfway Park, with Lawyer Rons newly minted invincibility dulled, and with Curlins deceptively clever neck victory in 2:01.20, its a whole new ballgame. The Breeders Cup. Starting to get real interesting about now.

Completing the all Grade 1 Pick Four were:

The Vosburgh: You rarely see a two-speed number at the Grade I level sprinting. But Fabulous Strike and Talent Search hooked up from the jump, raced through fractions of :21.89 and :44.51, at which point Talent Search shortened stride while Fabulous Strike was resurgent under the crafty Ramon Dominguez. Discreet Cat stalked in perfect position beneath Garrett Gomez but was one-paced through the stretch, clearly a horse that needed the effort. He should get enough out of the race to contend going a mile and 70 yards at Monmouth Park. Todd Beattie said he would train the winner up to the Breeders Cup Sprint.

The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic: Talk about scraping paint! Johnny Velazquez was trapped aboard heavy favorite English Channel but he squeezed through a narrow opening on the fence and drew off to become only the third horse to win this race twice and become Americas best hope to win the Breeders Cup Turf. Figure that hell be double tough since he won the G1 United Nations over the Monmouth grass the last two years running. After getting through and winning the race by 2- lengths, he galloped out strongly and was about 15 in front of the group in less than a quarter of a mile.

The Beldame: It appeared Velazquez would get his natural double aboard Indian Vale, again saving ground with horse into the stretch. Instead, it was Dominguez who would get his second G1 of the day and third winner overall aboard stretch running Unbridled Belle giving Pletcher his second G1 of the day. Pletcher had started the weekend 4-for-31 at Belmont Park and things got worse when Wait A While disappointed in Saturdays Flower. But Pletcher fillies finished 1-2 here and the upset winner of the Delaware Handicap on July 15 won here, too. Shes in the Breeders Cup Distaff. It was her first win in five starts at nine furlongs and three starts at Belmont Park. Ginger Punch could have clinched the Eclipse title for older fillies and mares with a Beldame victory, but instead settled for third. Resultantly, this category, like that Horse of the Year, is wide open.