Updated on 09/18/2011 1:23AM

All eyes turn to Classic run

Happy Ticket, 11th in last year's Distaff, will give it another try next Saturday, when Churchill Downs will be the site of the Breeders' Cup for a record sixth time.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There were 121 horses pre-entered in this year's Breeders' Cup, the fourth-highest number in the 23-year history of the event, and though there are two past Breeders' Cup winners, a passel of European stars, a Kentucky Derby winner, and a record 18 pre-entries from one trainer, the day's focus will come down to one horse in the last of the eight races.

Bernardini will be going for the Horse of the Year title in the day's richest race, the $5 million Classic, when the Breeders' Cup is held on Nov. 4 for a record sixth time here at Churchill Downs. This will be the first time Bernardini has been to Churchill Downs, a place he might have visited for a 1 1/4-mile race on the first Saturday in May, rather than the first Saturday in November, had he started his career sooner than Jan. 7.

No matter. Bernardini has made up for lost time by rocketing to the top of the charts with wins in the Preakness, Travers Stakes, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He is the 8-5 favorite on the early line set by Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form's national handicapper, and likely will be shorter than that at post time.

Bernardini's early price is affected, at this point, by the pre-entry of Jerome Handicap winner Discreet Cat, who is the second choice on Watchmaker's line. Both are owned by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum of Dubai, and there is zero chance they will run against one another.

The unbeaten Discreet Cat is expected to make his next start in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 25. He will remain in training next year, whereas Bernardini is expected to be retired following the Classic. Discreet Cat was pre-entered merely as an insurance policy in case something unforeseen strikes Bernardini before final entries are due, and post positions are drawn, next Wednesday.

Pre-entries were due this past Monday, and were officially announced on Wednesday by the Breeders' Cup.

"That pre-entry just buys us nine days' time," said Rick Mettee, the trainer of Discreet Cat.

The pre-entry stage is the first of a two-step entry process. At this point, horses were allowed to enter in as many as two races, and six did so. Next Wednesday, those six must be entered in one race, and then post positions for all eight races will be drawn.

A maximum of 14 horses can run in a Breeders' Cup race. In six of the eight races, pre-entries exceeded 14. In those cases, seven horses automatically received berths based on points earned in graded stakes in North America this year, seven were chosen Tuesday by an international panel of racing officials, and the rest were placed on a list of alternates, in order of preference of the committee.

The only way a horse not currently in the field can get in is if someone in the main body of the race drops out before next Wednesday. Once final entries are taken and posts are drawn, there is no also-eligible list.

Also next Wednesday, final payment is due for horses who need to be supplemented to Breeders' Cup races for the first time. That number is down to a handful this year because of rules instituted earlier this year that allow older horses to nominate earlier, and at less cost. Classic runners Invasor, Lava Man, and Premium Tap are among those whose owners took advantage of the new rules.

The only advantage to waiting until now to supplement is that a portion of the supplemental fee is added to the race's purse. Nominees from earlier this year are treated like horses nominated as foals; they pay the standard entry fee, and no additional money goes into the race's purse.

What all that adds up to is plenty of cash. Each race is worth at least $2omillion, the aggregate purse of the eight races is a record $20 million, and races such as the Filly and Mare Turf, Sprint, Mile, and Distaff will have their purses enhanced by supplemental entry fees.

Speaking of an embarrassment of riches, trainer Todd Pletcher, who already has set a record for purse earnings this year, pre-entered 18 runners, eclipsing the old mark of 14 set by D. Wayne Lukas in 1987.

Pletcher has two in the Classic, the longshots Flower Alley and Lawyer Ron.

Among the familiar faces in this year's Breeders' Cup are Better Talk Now and the mare Ouija Board, who won Breeders' Cup grass races in 2004. Ouija Board - one of 17 European runners who were pre-entered - will be competing in the Filly and Mare Turf for the third straight year. She will be the first European-based runner to head here three straight years for the Breeders' Cup.

But that streak pales in comparison to that of Perfect Drift, who will be running in the Classic for the fifth straight year. He will be only the second horse to run in the Breeders' Cup five times, joining the sprinter Kona Gold.

The Classic also includes European standouts David Junior and George Washington, and the 2005 Kentucky Derby winner, Giacomo.

There were 15 horses entered in the Classic, with Flower Alley, last year's runner-up behind Saint Liam, on the outside looking in. That will not matter, though, since both Bernardini and Discreet Cat will not run, so Flower Alley will get in.

"The Flower Alley situation is a moot point," Pletcher said. "He'll probably get in. But it's an absolute joke that a horse who finished second last year in the Breeders' Cup Classic didn't get in."

Ben Huffman, the Churchill Downs racing secretary and a member of the panel that ranked the horses in all of the oversubscribed fields, said 2006 form trumped 2005.

"It was a tough call," Huffman said. "There were several tough calls. Seven of us looked over the data, the races, all day [Tuesday]. We thought his race in the Salvator Mile was mediocre, and he had two poor races after that."

The large field did not surprise Tom Albertrani, the trainer of Bernardini.

"This is the last big race of the year," he said. "Everyone is going to want to participate. Everybody's got confidence in their own horse that they're going to run their best race. If we stub our toe somewhere, you've got to be prepared to run."

Bernardini had his next-to-last work for the Classic on Wednesday at Belmont Park, where he went five furlongs in 1:02.40 with his regular exercise rider, Simon Harris. Albertrani said he had Bernardini galloping out six furlongs in 1:15, and seven furlongs in 1:28.60.

"It was the usual type of work for him," Albertrani said. "He looks like he's on top of his game."

Bernardini is scheduled to work again next Tuesday at Belmont and fly to Kentucky the following day.

Discreet Cat also worked five furlongs at Belmont on Wednesday, in 1:02.53.

Not including Discreet Cat, the Classic field is Bernardini (Javier Castellano the rider), Brother Derek (Alex Solis), David Junior (Jamie Spencer), Flower Alley, George Washington (Mick Kinane), Giacomo (Mike Smith), Invasor (Fernando Jara), Lava Man (Corey Nakatani), Lawyer Ron, Perfect Drift (Garrett Gomez), Premium Tap (Edgar Prado), Suave (Kent Desormeaux), Sun King (Rafael Bejarano), and Super Frolic (Victor Espinoza). Pletcher said John Velazquez will ride either Flower Alley or Lawyer Ron. Pletcher had not decided on a jockey for the other horse.

- additional reporting

by David Grening