John Henry has the chance to write the final chapter to one of racing's great rags-to-riches stories Saturday. If he wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he will become the top money-winning thoroughbred of all time and will probably be voted horse of the year.

This is not likely to happen, but people who like to savor great racing drama won't be disappointed. This day at Belmont Park may be remembered as a historic one for feminism.

In the race preceding the Gold Cup, the prestigious Champagne Stakes, the unbeaten 2-year-old filly Before Dawn will attempt to defeat 14 male rivals. If she does, she will win considerable support in the horse-of-the-year balloting.

And then, in the Gold Cup itself, a mare named Relaxing is going to whip John Henry and nine other male rivals, giving evidence that she may be the best thoroughbred on this continent.

Maryland racing fans will remember Relaxing. The mare had won five straight races in New York last winter before coming to Bowie for the John B. Campbell Handicap. She was to meet Irish Tower, a brilliant colt who had captured his last four starts by a total of 33 lengths and looked practically invincible. Relaxing blew him away by three lengths.

Laid off all summer, Relaxing won a race against females, finished fourth in the Woodward Stakes against males, then two weeks ago demonstrated that she was returning to her best early season form. She won the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont, running 1 1/8 miles in a brilliant 1:47 3/5.

And now, trainer Angel Penna says, "She is coming up to the Gold Cup better than any race this year." The 1 1/2-mile distance should suit her perfectly. But the conditions do not suit John Henry perfectly.

The gelding was sold for $1,100 as a yearling, ran in a $20,000 claiming race as a 3-year-old and has gone on to win more than $2.4 million in purses. But he has amassed most of those earnings by running on the grass. When he ran in last year's Gold Cup, he was soundly beaten by the mediocre Temperence Hill. John Henry evidently has improved since, and he did win a major stake on the dirt in California this year, but he still is probably not a good enough main-track runner to beat Relaxing.

His trainer, Lefty Nickerson, admits that John Henry was brought here from California not out of conviction that he can win on the dirt but as a gamble to win the horse-of-the-year title.

There are plenty of other well-known horses with impressive records in the Gold Cup, but none of them figures to win Saturday. Temperence Hill, last year's winner, is over the hill. Noble Nashua won the Marlboro Cup three weeks ago when he was permitted to set a ridiculously slow pace, but he won't have that luxury today. Amber Pass, who finished second in the Marlboro Cup, is not in the best of health.

Relaxing actually faces an easier task against her male rivals than Before Dawn does against hers. The horses in the Gold Cup field are known commodities, and most handicapping logic suggests that Relaxing is superior. But the Champagne is full of 2-year-olds who are hard to gauge. Deputy Minister has won all seven of his starts, most of them in Canada. D'Accord won a maiden race here last week by 15 lengths; not even trainer LeRoy Jolley knows how good he may be.

The Champagne probably is too tough a race to bet; Before Dawn will be a short-priced favorite, anyway. But the Gold Cup looks like an irresistible betting opportunity, and the price on Relaxing will be right. Filly, Mare May Leave the Boys in the Dust at Belmont -BY Andrew Beyer Washington Post Staff Writer

BELMONT, N.Y., Oct. 9 -- John Henry has the chance to write the final chapter to one of racing's great rags-to-riches stories Saturday. If he wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he will become the top money-winning thoroughbred of all time and will probably be voted horse of the year.

This is not likely to happen, but people who like to savor great racing drama won't be disappointed. This day at Belmont Park may be remembered as a historic one for feminism.

In the race preceding the Gold Cup, the prestigious Champagne Stakes, the unbeaten 2-year-old filly Before Dawn will attempt to defeat 14 male rivals. If she does, she will win considerable support in the horse-of-the-year balloting.

And then, in the Gold Cup itself, a mare named Relaxing is going to whip John Henry and nine other male rivals, giving evidence that she may be the best thoroughbred on this continent.

Maryland racing fans will remember Relaxing. The mare had won five straight races in New York last winter before coming to Bowie for the John B. Campbell Handicap. She was to meet Irish Tower, a brilliant colt who had captured his last four starts by a total of 33 lengths and looked practically invincible. Relaxing blew him away by three lengths.

Laid off all summer, Relaxing won a race against females, finished fourth in the Woodward Stakes against males, then two weeks ago demonstrated that she was returning to her best early season form. She won the Ruffian Handicap at Belmont, running 1 1/8 miles in a brilliant 1:47 3/5.

And now, trainer Angel Penna says, "She is coming up to the Gold Cup better than any race this year." The 1 1/2-mile distance should suit her perfectly. But the conditions do not suit John Henry perfectly.

The gelding was sold for $1,100 as a yearling, ran in a $20,000 claiming race as a 3-year-old and has gone on to win more than $2.4 million in purses. But he has amassed most of those earnings by running on the grass. When he ran in last year's Gold Cup, he was soundly beaten by the mediocre Temperence Hill. John Henry evidently has improved since, and he did win a major stake on the dirt in California this year, but he still is probably not a good enough main-track runner to beat Relaxing.

His trainer, Lefty Nickerson, admits that John Henry was brought here from California not out of conviction that he can win on the dirt but as a gamble to win the horse-of-the-year title.

There are plenty of other well-known horses with impressive records in the Gold Cup, but none of them figures to win Saturday. Temperence Hill, last year's winner, is over the hill. Noble Nashua won the Marlboro Cup three weeks ago when he was permitted to set a ridiculously slow pace, but he won't have that luxury today. Amber Pass, who finished second in the Marlboro Cup, is not in the best of health.

Relaxing actually faces an easier task against her male rivals than Before Dawn does against hers. The horses in the Gold Cup field are known commodities, and most handicapping logic suggests that Relaxing is superior. But the Champagne is full of 2-year-olds who are hard to gauge. Deputy Minister has won all seven of his starts, most of them in Canada. D'Accord won a maiden race here last week by 15 lengths; not even trainer LeRoy Jolley knows how good he may be.

The Champagne probably is too tough a race to bet; Before Dawn will be a short-priced favorite, anyway. But the Gold Cup looks like an irresistible betting opportunity, and the price on Relaxing will be right.