10/23/2002 12:00AM

BC Countdown - Mile: Frankel unfazed by Rock's entry


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Aidan O'Brien probably figured that one in the hand was better than four in the bush. After saying a week ago that he was leaning toward running Rock of Gibraltar in the Breeders' Cup Classic, O'Brien ultimately settled on the BC Mile.

Although the $1 million Mile offers just one-fourth the purse of the $4 million Classic, virtually everyone, including O'Brien, believed that the chances of victory were far better for Rock of Gibraltar in the Mile. As a grass specialist who has won an incredible seven straight Group 1 races, the last five at a mile, Rock of Gibraltar will stick to the same game plan that has allowed him to become the most brilliant racehorse in Europe this year.

By being entered in the Mile, Rock of Gibraltar, who drew post 10, dramatically alters the complexion of a race that, without him, would have been one of the most wide-open on the Breeders' Cup card. Instead, it is a race with one of the biggest favorites: Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker has tabbed Rock of Gibraltar at 6-5 in a full field of 14, while Arlington handicapper Mike Battaglia has made him the even-money choice.

While Rock of Gibraltar's presence led to the defection of one Mile pre-entrant to a different BC race - Luca Cumani opted into the Filly and Mare Turf with Gossamer, citing the entry of Rock of Gibraltar as one reason - trainers with horses who will face Rock of Gibraltar were mostly indifferent.

"I'm going to be honest with you," said Bobby Frankel, who has Beat Hollow and Aldebaran in the Mile. "I don't care a little bit."

Frankel said he believes that if "my horses run their races, they're going to be right there. I'm being as sincere as possible. If they run their best, I don't care if Rock of Gibraltar is in there or not."

Frankel said he is as "happy as possible" with the way Beat Hollow, Aldebaran, and "all my horses are coming up to this. If we get beat, it's going to be because we were outrun."

O'Brien, who was traveling Wednesday from Ireland and unavailable to the press, strongly indicated in an Oct. 17 NTRA teleconference that the Classic was the more likely spot for Rock of Gibraltar. He cited the purse differential as the prime reason for trying the Classic while also acknowledging that switching to the dirt would be something of a risky but worthwhile proposition.

However, Mike Dillon, racing manager for Alex Ferguson, who co-owns Rock of Gibraltar with Susan Magnier, said Wednesday that "we always planned to run Rock of Gibraltar in the Mile, Hawk Wing in the Classic, and High Chapparal in the Turf." He added that O'Brien "always keeps all his options to the end, but as far as we were concerned, the Mile was always the favored option."

With a list of 10 alternates, the Mile, as often occurs, was the most oversubscribed race of the Breeders' Cup this year. Yet because of injuries or the exercising of other options, all horses whose connections wanted into the race were allowed to run, except North East Bound and One Won One. Three alternates, all longshots, made the field: Nuclear Debate, Dress to Thrill, and Green Fee.

Perhaps the most notable development at the post-position draw was that Landseer, also trained by O'Brien, was assigned post 13. Given Arlington's two-turn configuration for one-mile grass races, outside posts figure to be disadvantageous.

"Landseer has a very difficult draw," said Dillon. "It's nigh on impossible from there."

Dress to Thrill, an Irish filly who is unbeaten in four starts this year, is the lone filly in the field. The Mile has been won four times by fillies, all from Europe: Royal Heroine (1984), Miesque (1987-88), and Ridgewood Pearl (1995).