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Oct 22, 2002 2:22 AM

   Breeders’ Cup day once again will showcase the world’s top horses, competing for the most money offered in a single day of racing.

   The list of thoroughbred superstars is topped by Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem,  who will be joined by Travers Stakes winner Medaglia d’Oro, Pacific Classic winner Came Home, European star Rock of Gibraltar (IRE) and top-rated filly Azeri.

   At press time, 104 horses, including 23 from Europe, were pre-entered for the 2002 Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships. The total of 104 horses pre-entered matches last year’s total. 

   The 19th Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, consisting of eight Grade I races with purses and awards totaling a minimum of $13 million, will be held on Saturday, at Arlington Park in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. It will mark the first time that the Championships have been held at Arlington and in the Midwest. The Breeders’ Cup will be televised live by NBC Sports (1:00-6:00 p.m. ET).

   War Emblem leads the contingent of outstanding 3-year-olds taking on older horses in this year’s 1 1/4 mile, $4 million Breeders’ Cup Classic. After winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness but falling short of the VISA Triple Crown with an eighth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, War Emblem returned to the races in August, winning the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in front-running fashion.

   But in his first attempt against older horses in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar three weeks later, War Emblem finished sixth to another top three-year-old, Came Home, who has won six of seven starts this year, including the Swaps Stakes and Santa Anita Derby.

   Medaglia d’Oro has also been in the thick of the 3-year-old picture all year. He has come on strong during the second half of the season, following his second-place finish in the Belmont Stakes with victories in the Jim Dandy and Travers Stakes at Saratoga. War Emblem, Medaglia d’Oro and Came Home were all tied for first in the Classic Division of the World Thoroughbred Rankings.

   Other contenders in the Classic include the Bobby Frankel-trained Milwaukee Brew, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap; Hawk Wing from Ireland, who captured the Coral Eclipse Stakes; and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Evening Attire. Macho Uno, the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, has also been pre-entered in the Classic.

   A continent away, the dominant horse in Europe this year has been the super-miler Rock of Gibraltar. Pre-entered in the $1 million NetJets Breeders’ Cup Mile on the turf, Rock of Gibraltar is undefeated in five starts this year, all at one mile on grass. Rock of Gibraltar has also been pre-entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as second preference. Those likely to challenge Rock of Gibraltar are his stablemate Landseer, winner of the Shadwell Keeneland Turf Mile; and Beat Hollow, who captured the Arlington Million in August.

   The top filly in the U.S. has been Azeri, who is expected to be the favorite in a very contentious $2 million Breeders’ Cup Distaff, contested at 1 1/8 miles. The 4-year-old Azeri has won six graded stakes races in a row, the last four wire-to-wire. She has been atop the Distaff Division of the World Thoroughbred Rankings all year. Her only defeat this year came at the hands of Edward P. Evans’s Summer Colony in the La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita in the winter. Returning east, Summer Colony won both the Delaware Handicap and the Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga.

   The top 3-year-old in the Distaff appears to be Farda Amiga, who won the Kentucky Oaks at 20-1 and came back more than three months later to win the Alabama Stakes at Saratoga. Take Charge Lady, second in the Kentucky Oaks to Farda Amiga, comes into the Distaff following an impressive win against older fillies and mares in the Overbrook Spinster Stakes at Keeneland.

   Banks Hill (GB) is the defending champion in this year’s $1 million Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf, run at 1 1/4 miles. Since finishing third in the Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita, Banks Hill has been transferred to the barn of trainer Bobby Frankel. Banks Hill has faced male rivals four times in Europe this year, with a victory in the Prix Jacques Le Marois at Deauville and a second place finish to Rock of Gibraltar in the NetJets Prix du Moulin. Challenging her is Golden Apples, winner of the Yellow Ribbon for owner Gary Tanaka and trainer Ben Cecil. Golden Apples also won the Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington. Other standouts include Godolphin Racing’s Kazzia (GER), who won the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park; and Islington (IRE), who finished just two lengths behind the winner in the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.


   The $2 million John Deere Breeders’ Cup Turf at 1 1/2 miles has also attracted a strong European contingent, led by High Chaparral (IRE), winner of the English Derby and the Budweiser Irish Derby. High Chaparral ran well to be third in the Arc, his first race in more than three months. The other top European is Golan (IRE), winner of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. Ballingarry (IRE), recent winner of the Canadian International at Woodbine, has a new trainer in Laura de Seroux. The U.S. horses are led by Denon, winner of the Turf Classic at Belmont; and With Anticipation, the big gray 7-year-old gelding who won the United Nations Handicap, Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap and Man o’ War in succession this year.


   Bob Baffert could hold a solid hand in a very deep $1 million Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run at 1 1/8 miles this year. Baffert has pre-entered four horses in the race, including Kentucky Cup Juvenile winner Vindication and the first two finishers in Santa Anita’s Norfolk Stakes, Kafwain and Bull Market.  Aidan O’Brien has pre-entered five horses for this race, including Hold That Tiger, a fast-closing winner of the Grand Criterium at Longchamp. O’Brien won the Juvenile last year with Johannesburg. One 2-year-old who should relish the distance is John Oxley’s Sky Mesa, winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga and the Lane’s End Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. Toccet, the fast-closing winner of Belmont’s Champagne Stakes, has also been pre-entered.


   Six years ago, the Phipps family won the Juvenile Fillies with My Flag. Now, they could win this year’s $1 million Long John Silver’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at 1 1/8 miles with a daughter of My Flag, Storm Flag Flying, who romped home to win the Frizette Stakes at Belmont over the Baffert-trained Santa Catarina, who is back for a rematch. Baffert’s other top contender in this race is Composure, winner of the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita.

   The $1 million NAPA Breeders’ Cup Sprint at six furlongs is once again loaded with speedsters. Orientate, trained by D. Wayne Lukas””the leading Breeders’ Cup trainer in wins with 16””raced to the top of the World Thoroughbred Rankings in the Sprint Division with four stakes wins this summer, the last being the Forego Handicap at Saratoga in September. The Sprint also features the exciting filly Xtra Heat, second in last year’s Sprint and a winner of 24 of 31 starts and more than $2 million in purses. Other contenders include Swept Overboard, winner of the Metropolitan Mile; Disturbingthepeace, a winner of three straight stakes races in California; and the hard-working veteran, Kona Gold, the 2000 Sprint champion.