11/04/2009 1:00AM

BC Day 1 offers three distinct acts


NEW YORK - It turns out that the much-maligned Breeders' Cup Marathon was good for something after all: When the race was moved from Saturday to Friday this year, it made the first of two Breeders' Cup days a co-ed affair, banishing the title of "Filly Friday" that lasted only a year and would have been an embarrassment on a day when neither Rachel Alexandra nor Zenyatta were running.

So instead, we have a Mostly Filly Friday that otherwise turned out about as well as could be expected and that has three distinct components. First there's the oddball Marathon; then come a pair of wide-open 2-year-old filly races with big fields and the potential for parimutuel chaos; then come three small but classy fields - just 25 fillies and mares, but 14 of them Grade 1 winners - that should decide at least two Eclipse Awards.

Three of Friday's six races feature last year's winners trying to repeat, and the first of them, Muhannak in the Marathon, is only the co-sixth choice at 12-1 on the morning line. It's not just that Muhannak has had seven starts with no better than a fifth-place finish since his triumph last year: This year's Marathon has drawn a much better field than the inaugural.

Mastery and Father Time, who ran first and fourth in the English St. Leger eight weeks ago, racing at 132 yards beyond the Marathon distance, are deserving favorites and may simply outclass this bunch. But put the two 3-year-olds together, and they're still three years younger than Cloudy's Knight, a resurgent 9-year-old gelding I'll be trying to beat them with at 8-1. He's the only Group 1 winner in the field besides Mastery, having won the Canadian International at 12 furlongs on turf two years ago, and after a rough patch since then he's been turned over to Jonathan Sheppard and responded with a pair of victories.

The Juvenile Fillies Turf, a race likely to be axed from the Cup schedule next year, continues the Americans vs. Europeans theme that will dominate many of the 14 Cup races this year. This round looks likely to go to the visiting team, led by the Irish-breds Lillie Langtry and Junia Tepzia. House of Grace looks like the leading American hope, and the speedball Rose Catherine rates an upset chance if no one keeps her honest early.

The plain old Juvenile Fillies is an all-domestic skirmish and appears to be a scramble featuring the winners of the division's three major preps - Blind Luck (Oak Leaf), Devil May Care (Frizette), and Negligee (Alcibiades). Although the three races appear very similar in quality, the Oak Leaf runners may be overbet because of their home-court advantage, so it might pay to go the other way. Two others to consider: Connie and Michael, a spectacular debut winner stepping up and stretching out, and Beautician, a high-quality dirt filly who had traffic trouble in her route and synthetic-track debut.

The Filly and Mare Turf has six Grade 1 winners in a field of eight but is no tougher than the field Forever Together mowed down last year. The question is whether last year's champion turf filly is as good this year after winning just 2 of 6 starts, but there are enough plausible excuses - bad trips, soft courses she doesn't relish - to suggest she may well be. If so, the biggest threat may come from Midday, a 3-year-old British filly who was beaten just a head in the Epsom Oaks.

The Filly and Mare Sprint shapes up as a rematch of the Madison Stakes at Keeneland on April 7, when Informed Decision upset Ventura, who won this race last year, by a head. That was the only time either filly has lost in a combined 11 sprints on American synthetic tracks. The competition includes three very talented fillies owned by the Maktoums - Game Face, Sara Louise, and Seventh Street - but they appear to be racing for third money against two superior specialists at the top of their game.

Finally, there's the Ladies' Classic, run as the Distaff and on Saturday until last year. The 3-year-old Careless Jewel and the 4-year-old Music Note are the clear favorites, and in many seasons either would be good enough to be considered their divisional leaders. This time, though, they seem like the seconds for the showdown between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta that will never happen. It's also unclear whether either of them is at her best over a synthetic track as their nine combined Grade 1 and 2 victories have all been on dirt.

I'll be rooting for Music Note. Last year, she lost the 3-year-old filly championship by the head that separated her from Proud Spell in the Alabama and this year she's returned even better, with a pair of powerful triumphs in the Ballerina and the Beldame. Even an impressive victory probably wouldn't get her the older-female Eclipse nod over Zenyatta, but a Ladies' Classic triumph would be a pretty nice consolation prize for a filly who was no worse than second best in her division two years running.

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