10/18/2005 11:00PM

BC Classic: Racing's best throw down

First Samurai seeks to win the Juvenile and the role as Kentucky Derby favorite.

ELMONT, N.Y. - Led by four defending race winners, an unbeaten sprinter who is a candidate for Horse of the Year, an unbeaten 2-year-old colt, a miler who has won eight straight races, a deep, talented pool of European raiders, and several Classic candidates seeking Horse of the Year themselves, a total of 117 horses were announced on Wednesday as pre-entries for the 22nd Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships on Oct. 29 at Belmont Park.

The exhaustive list of stars includes Ashado, Better Talk Now, Ouija Board, and Singletary, all of whom won Breeders' Cup races last year at Lone Star Park. Lost in the Fog, the popular sprinter who has won eight races this year in a coast-to-coast campaign, headlines the Sprint. First Samurai seeks his fifth victory, and recognition as the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, in the Juvenile. Leroidesanimaux, the Brazilian import who has won eight straight grass races, tries to nail down the turf championship in the Mile against defending race winner Singletary.

Europe's representatives include Ouija Board, who won last year's Filly and Mare Turf, as well as highly regarded Group 1 winners Azamour, Bago, Motivator, Oratorio, and Starcraft. And the Classic has lured Horse of the Year candidates Borrego, Rock Hard Ten, and Saint Liam, who collectively this year have won the Donn Handicap, Goodwood Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Pacific Classic, Santa Anita Handicap, Stephen Foster Handicap, Strub Stakes, and Woodward Stakes.

"I think it's as strong a card at the pre-entry stage as we've had in years," said D.G. Van Clief Jr., the president of Breeders' Cup Ltd.

The Breeders' Cup could not come at a better time for the New York Racing Association, which has publicly acknowledged it is experiencing cash-flow problems.

"From NYRA's perspective, the Breeders' Cup comes at a great time," said Charles Hayward, NYRA's president and chief executive officer.

This will be the fourth Breeders' Cup held at majestic Belmont Park, and the fifth held in New York; Aqueduct played host in 1985. Belmont Park is popular with European horsemen, who pre-entered 22 horses, the most since 26 were pre-entered in 1994.

Wednesday's pre-entry stage is the first of a two-stage entry process. Next Wednesday, final fields will be determined and post positions drawn. Also that day, trainers of those horses pre-entered in more than one race must designate the race in which they will run. Horses that were supplemental entries must have their entry fee paid in full by that day. And since the Breeders' Cup limits its field to 14 runners, if more than 14 are entered in any race, some horses could be excluded. There is no also-eligible list.

All eight races had at least 14 pre-entries, and four races - the Juvenile, Mile, Turf, and Classic - had more than 14. In those oversubscribed races, seven horses were put in the main body of the race based on points earned in graded stakes this year, and seven were selected by an international panel of racing secretaries. The remaining horses were placed on a list, in order of the panel's preference, but they can only get in if a horse in the main body of the race drops out by entry time next Wednesday.

The 117 pre-entries equals the fourth-highest number in the 22-year history of the Breeders' Cup and is the highest since a record 135 were pre-entered in 2000. Three of this year's horses were pre-entered in two races. Sir Shackleton and Starcraft were pre-entered in the Mile and Classic, and Laura's Lucky Boy was pre-entered in the Mile and Turf. Fourteen horses are supplemental entries, but only 12 must pay the fee this year, since two - Filly and Mare Turf runners Megahertz and Ouija Board - get a credit for paying the supplemental fee to participate last year. Supplemental fees range from 9 percent to 20 percent of a race's purse. For instance, if Starcraft runs in the $4 million Classic, his fee will be $800,000, of which $720,000 is added to the Classic's purse.

The Classic will be the last of the eight Breeders' Cup races. This year's race sequence was not announced until Wednesday. Preceding the Classic, in race order, will be the Juvenile Fillies, Juvenile, Filly and Mare Turf, Sprint, Mile, Distaff, and Turf. Ashado is the defending race winner in the Distaff, and Better Talk Now won last year's Turf.

Among trainers, Todd Pletcher had the most pre-entries, with eight horses in six of the eight races, including Ashado. He also will send out Travers Stakes winner Flower Alley in the Classic, the day's richest race and one that could decide Horse of the Year.

There were 16 horses pre-entered in the 1 1/4-mile Classic. Borrego, Flower Alley, Perfect Drift, Rock Hard Ten, Saint Liam, Sir Shackleton, and Sun King were the seven that had the most points in graded stakes races. The committee chose A Bit O'Gold, Choctaw Nation, Jack Sullivan, Oratorio, Starcraft, Suave, and Super Frolic. The two currently on the outside looking in are Lord of the Game and A.P. Arrow, in that order.

Jack Sullivan, Oratorio, and Starcraft all are European imports. Neither Oratorio nor Starcraft has ever raced on dirt. Although Starcraft was pre-entered in both the Mile and the Classic, and was denoted at pre-entry time as having the Mile as his first preference, his trainer, Luca Cumani, on Wednesday said, "He will run in the Classic."

"He's trained on the all-weather and [Tuesday] he galloped on the fibresand surface, the nearest we have to dirt," Cumani said.

Rock Hard Ten was expected to work on Wednesday at Santa Anita, but "the track was too sticky, so he'll work [Thursday]," said his trainer, Richard Mandella.

Vladimir Cerin, the trainer of Super Frolic, on Wednesday said he had yet to decide on a rider for the Hawthorne Gold Cup winner. But the other 13 horses currently in the main body of the Classic are set. They are A Bit O'Gold (Jono Jones), Borrego (Garrett Gomez), Choctaw Nation (Victor Espinoza), Flower Alley (John Velazquez), Jack Sullivan (Frankie Dettori), Oratorio (Kieran Fallon), Perfect Drift (Mark Guidry), Rock Hard Ten (Gary Stevens), Saint Liam (Jerry Bailey), Sir Shackleton (Javier Castellano), Starcraft (Patrick Valenzuela), Suave (Edgar Prado), and Sun King (Rafael Bejarano).

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh

Cup race order

Juvenile Fillies31:20 p.m.Adieu
Juvenile41:55 p.m.First Samurai
Filly & Mare Turf 52:35 p.m.Ouija Board
Sprint63:10 p.m.Lost in the Fog
Mile 73:45 p.m.Leroidesanimaux
Distaff 84:20 p.m.Ashado
Turf 94:55 p.m.Azamour
Classic 105:35 p.m.Saint Liam

All times Eastern Daylight