10/24/2004 11:00PM

Baker's dozen for Classic?

Email
Horsephotos
Pleasantly Perfect, seeking to repeat in the Breeders' Cup Classic, settles in at Lone Star Park Monday with trainer Richard Mandella.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - There's an old sheriff in town.

Pleasantly Perfect, who won last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, arrived here at Lone Star Park on Monday as activity began to pick up in anticipation of Saturday's 21st Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, in which Pleasantly Perfect will attempt to nail down Horse of the Year with another victory in the $4 million Classic.

Pleasantly Perfect was one of 11 runners from California who arrived only hours before a group of 11 horses from Europe. Coupled with a set of horses who came to Lone Star over the weekend from the East Coast, the stable area here was finally alight with activity.

The Classic will be the last of eight Breeders' Cup races worth $14 million on Saturday. There were be 12 or 13 horses in the race, depending on the status of the mare Azeri, who will either face males in the Classic, or opt for the $2 million Distaff.

The decision regarding Azeri must be made by Wednesday, when final entries are due and post positions will be drawn for the Breeders' Cup races. Last week, Azeri was one of seven horses who were pre-entered in two races. On Wednesday, though, all those horses must be entered in just one race. Included in that bunch is the top turf filly Ouija Board, who will run in either the Filly and Mare Turf or against males in the Turf.

D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Azeri, has been consulting with owner Michael Paulson, and said he is leaving the decision to Paulson.

"I've gone over all the pros and cons from a trainer standpoint," Lukas said Monday from his home in Louisville, Ky. "In situations like this, the owner has got to be perfectly comfortable. They're the check-writers. He's vacillated back and forth all week. He's been analyzing the [Lone Star] races, looking at the pace scenarios. At one point I thought we were in the Distaff. At one point I wasn't so sure we were not in the Classic. In the Distaff, she'd be the favorite. In the Classic, she'd have to step it up a notch."

And how. The Classic is shaping up as one of the deepest in the race's history. Pleasantly Perfect is the likely favorite, but his confirmed competition includes:

* Ghostzapper, who is 3 for 3 this year, including a victory in the Woodward Stakes;

* Roses in May, who is 5 for 5 this year, including a victory in the Whitney Handicap;

* Birdstone, the winner of the Belmont Stakes and Travers Stakes;

* Funny Cide, who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 2003, and recently captured the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

The field is expected to be Birdstone (Edgar Prado the rider), Bowman's Band (Cornelio Velasquez), Dynever (Corey Nakatani), Fantasticat (Gerard Melancon), Freefourinternet (Greta Kuntzweiler), Funny Cide (Jose Santos), Ghostzapper (Javier Castellano), Newfoundland (undecided), Perfect Drift (Pat Day), Personal Rush (Frankie Dettori), Pleasantly Perfect (Jerry Bailey), Roses in May (John Velazquez), and possibly Azeri. If Azeri runs in the Classic, Day will ride her, and Kent Desormeaux will pick up the mount on Perfect Drift.

In addition to Pleasantly Perfect, the Japanese runner Personal Rush flew from California on Monday after completing his international quarantine at Hollywood Park. Personal Rush worked a half-mile in 50.80 seconds on Sunday morning at Hollywood.

Birdstone arrived on Saturday and visited the track for routine training both Sunday and Monday mornings. He is sporting a rather significant and noticeable skin rash on his hindquarters.

"There's nothing wrong with his blood or inside of him," said Reynaldo Abreu, the assistant to trainer Nick Zito who traveled with Birdstone. "Actually, it looks a lot better than it did a week ago."

Perfect Drift traveled by van from Louisville and arrived early Monday morning.

Azeri, Fantasticat, and Freefourinternet, all of whom have been training at Churchill Downs, were scheduled to fly here from Kentucky on Tuesday.

Fantasticat, the winner of the Super Derby, sped five furlongs in 59.60 seconds on Sunday morning at Churchill.

Funny Cide was scheduled for a workout on Tuesday morning at Belmont Park. He is scheduled to fly here from New York on Wednesday along with Ghostzapper and Newfoundland.

Both Ghostzapper and Newfoundland worked five furlongs on Sunday morning at Belmont. Ghostzapper was timed in 59.65 seconds, the best of 18 works at the distance.

"I thought he went in 1:01, and when I saw he went in 59 and 3, I said 'Wow,' " said Castellano, who worked Ghostzapper. "The last three works have been with blinkers and he is more aggressive and more focused on his business. He keeps doing better and better."

Newfoundland, who was second to Funny Cide in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, went in 1:00.89 on the training track.

Roses in May returned to the track at Lone Star after his crisp workout on Saturday and jogged two miles the wrong way.

Bowman's Band traveled from New York on Sunday. He is scheduled to have his final work here on Wednesday morning.

He may have to brave an off track. Afternoon thunderstorms were forecast for the area most days this week, according to the National Weather Service. A fairly significant storm, including thunder and lightning, came through here Monday afternoon. But the unsettled weather is expected to dissipate by Saturday. High temperatures in the low 80's are forecast for much of the week, but Saturday's forecast - at this point - is delightful, with a high temperature of 72 degrees and no rain.

- additional reporting by David Grening