10/01/2007 11:37AM

Classic Odds?


With all the top BC Classic contenders in the clubhouse after the final preps this past weekend, forget for a moment who you like and tackle a tougher question: Who's going to be the favorite at Monmouth Oct. 27?

The European bookmakers have it as a four-way virtual dead-heat. The Monday-morning odds posted by William Hill have (in alphabetical order) Any Given Saturday, Curlin, Lawyer Ron and Street Sense all at 5-1, followed by Hard Spun (10-1), George Washington (14-1) and Tiago (16-1). At eurohorse.com, which calculates a blend of "current generally available industry odds in Ireland and the U.K.," it's Lawyer Ron (previously 3-1) at 4-1, Curlin (previously 7-1) at 4-1, Any Given Saturday at 9-2 and Street Sense at 11-2, followed by George Washington (16-1), Asiatic Boy (16-1) and Tiago (16-1).

The cases for the four favorites can be summarized as follows:

Any Given Saturday: Thrashed Curlin and Hard Spun over Monmouth track in Haskell.

Curlin: Nailed Street Sense at the wire of the Preakness and Lawyer Ron in the final yards of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Might improve off the JCGC, his first start in eight weeks.

Lawyer Ron: Whitney and Woodward triumphs remain fastest of year, was somewhat rank in early stages of JCGC, might benefit from return to two turns and historically speed-favoring nature of Monmouth track.

Street Sense: Juvenile, Derby and Travers victories came off uninspiring preps similar to Kentucky Cup Classic defeat; is 1-1 in races against Curlin, 2-1 vs. Hard Spun and 2-0 vs. Any Given Saturday.

There of course are 26 days of potential developments ahead, with workouts, changes to the field and the post-position draw all likely to affect the odds and possibly tip the balance. Everything else being equal, my gut feeling is that Street Sense would be oh-so-narrowly favored if the betting closed today. The good news is that whoever you like, you're going to get a square price. not only among the four favorites who will eat up around 60 percent of the win pool, but on any outsiders taking a sliver of what's left over.

Thoughts on Sunday's developments:

--The Jockey Club Gold Cup was a classic horse race, an exhilirating finish between a very good 3-year-old in Curlin and a very good older horse in Lawyer Ron. Curlin's winning time of 2:01.20 was good for a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 114 in his eighth career start.

--English Channel's victory at 2-5 was another solid performance from an admirable veteran who has now won 12 of 22 career starts, $3.7 million, and five Grade 1 races. It's not his fault that the Turf Classic has drawn dismal fields behind him for two years running, but his excellent resume does not dispel the feeling that he'll be outkicked late by whatever quality Europeans show up for the BC Turf for a third straight year.

--Unbridled Belle's narrow victory over stablemate Indian Vale in the Beldame earned a 104 Beyer and proved that the winner can run a big one outside of Delaware Park. They'll both head for the BC Distaff, which is shaping up as a crowded and chaotic affair, with next Sunday's G1 Spinster at Keeneland and G1 Lady's Secret at Oak Tree likely to yield other pieces to the puzzle.

--Fabulous Strike's front-running tour de force in the Vosburgh earned a 114 Beyer, ran his record to 9 for 14, and was his fifth Beyer of 114 or higher in the last 12 months. His five defeats are his debut, a grass race, a seven-furlong race and two races on off tracks; he's 6-for-6 on fast tracks at distances under seven furlongs. Discreet Cat was never going to catch him at six furlongs off a long layoff but showed very little in defeat plugging along for a distant third.

--The announced attendance at Belmont Sunday was 19,338, aided by a folding-chair giveaway, and the place had a lively buzz to it. The number stands in sharp contrast to the 7,361 who turned out for Rags to Riches in the Gazelle Sept. 15, especially given that Sunday's races were telecast on ESPN and that many New Yorkers were busy watching the Mets complete their historic collapse in the last game of the regular season. On the other hand, total handle was actually higher on the 10-race Gazelle card than the 11-race Gold Cup card ($17.29 million vs. $16.35 million), though the former was helped by a pick-six carryover and $1.2 million in show bets on Rags to Riches. Ontrack handle was up only from $1.7 million with an attendance of 7,361 to $2.3 million with an official attendance of 19,338.