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Deep field for BC 2004

Oct 26, 2004 6:14 AM

by ed golden

Of the 101 horses pre-entered for the 21st Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championships at Lone Star Park on Saturday, only seven — count ”˜em, seven — have raced over the track, and four of those are entered in the Sprint.

So how do you get a line on eight races worth $14 million in purses at a track on which 94 percent of the horses have never set foot? Past Breeders’ Cups have been held at familiar North American venues: Southern California, Chicago, Florida, Kentucky, New York and Canada. This is the first time the Breeders’ Cup is being held "off-Broadway."

Mike Mitchell is in the unique position of having two Breeders’ Cup candidates that have raced over the Lone Star strips, Kela in the Sprint and Star Over The Bay in the Turf. Kela won the Texas Mile on a sloppy track last April, then finished third on a fast track in the 1 1/16-mile Lone Star Park Handicap. Star Over The Way was second by a neck in the Dallas Turf Cup Handicap at 1 1/8 miles in June.

"I don’t think it’s any advantage to having a race over this track, unless you’ve got a nervous horse," said Mitchell, currently nearing his fourth training title at Oak Tree where he leads with 13 wins from 23 starts, nearly 64 percent. "Horses in the Breeders’ Cup have been running everywhere. They’re all pros."

Lone Star’s surface does not vary greatly from those on the West Coast, according to Mitchell, but he won’t be surprised if the track is lightning fast, barring inclement weather.

"The day Kela won at Lone Star it was a real sloppy track," Mitchell said. "The day he lost, the track was very fast but I don’t think he liked the way he was ridden. On Breeders’ Cup day it probably will be that fast again. When these big racing days come along they always seem to tighten up the track and have it faster than normal.

"Both my horses have run at Lone Star but I don’t think it gives me an edge. Kela could run in Alaska. Nothing bothers him. He’s just a good horse. Star Over The Bay is the same way. Nothing excites them. They’re good horses to work with. If trainers have good, smart horses I don’t think they’ll have a problem running at Lone Star. If anyone had an advantage, I’d say it would be horsemen who are training at the track and waiting for everybody else to ship in."

All that said, here’s one man’s opinion on what could take place deep in the heart of Texas on Saturday:

DISTAFF: On an already glowing resume, D. Wayne Lukas has added perhaps his most accomplished training achievement with Azeri, staying the course while deflecting criticism from many who felt she should not have been "unretired" after winning 2002 Horse of the Year honors when trained by Laura de Seroux. Azeri will be favored and while she does not have to be in front to win, there is speed to challenge her. A winner of her last race, Azeri has not won back-to-back in seven starts under Lukas. Selections: Society Selection, Azeri, Ashado.

JUVENILE FILLIES: She moved like the Nike swoosh in winning the Oak Leaf Stakes, and Sweet Catomine will need a similar surge to defeat much tougher challengers here. Selections: Sweet Catomine, Balleto, Enduring Will.

MILE: Julio Canani, who trains Sweet Catomine, has won the Mile twice, with Silic in 1999 and Val Royal in 2001. He has two of the favorites this year, each with contrasting styles. Blackdoun will be flying late, while Special Ring will try to outfoot Balto Star and Royal Regalia for the lead and hold on. Anyone who saw Blackdoun close like a wild horse to win three stakes at Del Mar would find it difficult to pick against him, even though a mile might seem too short for him. Selections: Blackdoun, Special Ring, Artie Schiller.

SPRINT: Pico Central, the nation’s leading sprinter, won’t run, opting for the Cigar Mile next month. As usual, there’s no shortage of speed in this race but the likelihood is it won’t carry. Selections: Midas Eyes, Kela, Our New Recruit.

FILLY & MARE TURF: In a field full of closers, Bobby Frankel appears to have two of the strongest in Light Jig and Megahertz. The latter hasn’t run since May 31 but she runs well fresh and though pocket-sized, she possesses a furious closing kick and should find a mile and three-eighths to her fancy. But Yellow Ribbon winner Light Jig has a conditioning edge. In a race without a ton of speed, gutsy California-bred speedster Moscow Burning could get loose on the lead and go a long way before she’s caught: Selections: Light Jig, Moscow Burning, Megahertz.

JUVENILE: The smallest field with only eight pre-entered, the Juvenile is void of speed which should aid Roman Ruler, the enigmatic son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus trained by Bob Baffert. Wearing blinkers, he beat little in the Norfolk but gets a favorable pace scenario. Selections: Roman Ruler, Proud Accolade, Afleet Alex.

TURF: A winner of eight of 11 starts, Kitten’s Joy could be the shortest-priced favorite on the day, and deservedly so. This 3-year-old’s closing thrust is overpowering enough to overtake upstart Star Over The Bay, who should outfoot this field. Star Over The Bay has won three of four for Mitchell since being claimed for $80,000 last May 16 from Vladimir Cerin and will go hell-bent for the lead, Mitchell said. He’s now a major player, especially with his lone serious pace challenger, Balto Star, out of the race. Selections: Kitten’s Joy, Star Over The Bay, Magistretti.

CLASSIC: Horse of the Year laurels is at stake here and Richard Mandella could capture the brass ring with Pleasantly Perfect, who is coming into the race at his peak. Bettors take note: After Pleasantly Perfect worked seven furlongs last Saturday in a bullet 1:23.80, official Santa Anita clocker Gary Nelson told me, "I’ll be shocked if he loses." Selections: Pleasantly Perfect, Ghostzapper, Roses in May.

THE HOMESTRETCH: Mitchell, winning at a nearly 50 percent rate, is miffed over whispers that he’s not conducting business on a level playing field. "I’ve been running my horses very aggressively, where they can win, and I think people should focus on that instead of asking, ”˜What am I using or what am I doing?’" the 56-year-old Bakersfield native said. "If I lose my horses I don’t worry about it. I run them where I think they can win." . . . Here’s the best bet on Breeders’ Cup day: Nothing to Lose will not be favored in the Mile at 4-1 and Blackdoun will be a considerably shorter price than 12-1 listed by the Daily Racing Form’s oddsmaker after pre-entries were taken. Blackdoun could even be favored . . . It’s one thing for Fox to get up close and personal in its presentation of the baseball playoffs, but ratings should be for mature audiences only when cameras zoom in to reveal gross-out facial moles, acne and assorted nose hairs. Whatever happened to good taste? . . . Lookalikes: Johnny Damon and Charles Manson . . . And tell me this: when the Yankees beat the Red Sox, 19-8, did they cover the spread?