11/01/2006 12:00AM

Bernardini versus the world

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Bernardini, led by Ronin Cunningham, gets off his plane Wednesday morning in Louisville after making the flight down from his New York base.

Based on the lines set by both Mike Battaglia of Churchill Downs and Mike Watchmaker of Daily Racing Form, Bernardini will be the shortest-priced favorite in the eight Breeders' Cup races. He is even money on Battaglia's line, and 4-5 with Watchmaker, DRF's national handicapper. Yet after facing a total of 13 rivals combined in his last three races, Bernardini will now have a dozen out to knock him from his perch.

Among those are Invasor and Lava Man, who are the leading contenders for the Eclipse Award as champion older horse, and are vying with Bernardini, the nation's leading 3-year-old, for Horse of the Year.

"He looks like a freak," said Doug O'Neill, the trainer of Lava Man. "He's done everything without any effort whatsoever. On sheer numbers, he just towers over the rest of the field. He's definitely the horse we're trying to beat."

Final fields were set, and post positions drawn, on Wednesday morning at Churchill Downs. This was the second of a two-stage entry process. One week earlier, when pre-entries were taken, horses could be put in as many as two races, and six horses were cross-entered. But on Wednesday, those six had to be put in one specific race.

Super Frolic was pre-entered in both the Classic and the $2 million Mile on turf, and had the Classic down as his first preference. But on Wednesday, following a trainer change Tuesday afternoon, he was put in the Mile. He would be a decided longshot in either race.

Ro Parra, the owner of Super Frolic, said he chose the Mile after discussing his options with Jerry Brown of Thoro-Graph, who advised Parra to purchase the horse privately last year. Vladimir Cerin, who had been training Super Frolic in California for the past 15 months, chose not to attend the Breeders' Cup, and the horse - who arrived here Tuesday from California - was turned over to Scott Blasi, who is based at Churchill and also trains horses for Parra.

Brown said he had not spoken to Cerin since Super Frolic ran in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on Aug. 20. Asked what his relationship was like with Cerin, Brown took a lengthy pause and said, "I deal with Ro."

"I have input, the trainer has input, and Ro makes the final call," Brown said from his New York office.

Cerin, reached at Hollywood Park, said, "I have a good relationship with the owner."

Parra, speaking from his office in Texas, said he chose the Mile because this year's Classic is "a tough, tough race."

There were 15 horses pre-entered in the Classic last week. The other defection from the race was expected. Discreet Cat was pre-entered only in case something unforeseen were to befall Bernardini before final entries were taken Wednesday. There was never any chance both would run, since they are both owned by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum of Dubai. On Wednesday morning, Discreet Cat breezed five furlongs at Belmont Park in 1:01.18 in preparation for the Cigar Mile later this month at Aqueduct.

Super Frolic's move to the Mile was the only real surprise among the 103 horses who made the final fields in the eight races Wednesday. Five of the races have full fields of 14, and in four of those races, runners had to be excluded because more than the maximum of 14 were entered.

Todd Pletcher, the nation's runaway leader in purse earnings among trainers, entered a record 17 horses in seven races, including Flower Alley and Lawyer Ron in the Classic. Jockeys Edgar Prado and John Velazquez have mounts in all eight races.

This is the record sixth time the Breeders' Cup will be run at Churchill Downs, and the purses for the eight races total more than $20omillion. There are two stakes, beginning at 11:15 a.m. Eastern time Saturday, preceding the eight Breeders' Cup races. The $2 million Juvenile Fillies, the day's first Breeders' Cup race, is set for 12:30 p.m.

Cash Included (3-1 on Battaglia's line) and Dreaming of Anna (5-2 on Watchmaker's line) are the top betting choices in the Juvenile Fillies. Both linemakers have Circular Quay as the favorite in the $2 million Juvenile, Ouija Board favored in the $2 million Filly and Mare Turf, and Henny Hughes favored in the $2 million Sprint.

Araafa (7-2 on Watchmaker's line) and the filly Gorella (4-1 on Battaglia's) are the top choices in the $2 million Mile. Both linemakers have Fleet Indian favored in the $2 million Distaff, Hurricane Run favored in the $3 million Turf, and Bernardini as a short price in the Classic.

Bernardini, Invasor, and Lawyer Ron all arrived on flights from New York on Wednesday, one day after Brother Derek and Giacomo got in from California, so now all the Classic runners are on the grounds. George Washington arrived from Ireland on Tuesday, but because the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires imports to remain in a quarantine barn at the track for 36 hours, he was not expected to get a feel for the Churchill Downs track until Thursday morning.

The track should be drying out by then. After rain Tuesday afternoon and into Wednesday, the Weather Channel forecast was for dry, cool conditions the rest of the week. Saturday's high is expected to be 53 degrees, with only a 20 percent chance of rain.

The track was sloppy for training on Wednesday morning. Brother Derek and Giacomo galloped over it, and Lava Man trotted on it before making a detour to the turf course for a gallop late in the morning.

"The main track looked a little more wet than I thought it would be," said Leandro Mora, an assistant to O'Neill. "I asked them if I could go on the turf, and they said 'Okay,' thank God."

The big three are nowhere near each other in the gate. Bernardini got post 3, Lava Man landed post 8, and Invasor is in post 11.

Bernardini and Suave were the last two horses to have their posts drawn. At that point, only posts 3 and 12 remained. Bernardini's name was called first, and he got 3 in the traditional blind draw.

"By the time they got down to the last two, I figured he'd be better suited with him on the outside," said Tom Albertrani, who trains Bernardini. "But we'll deal with it the best we can. I don't think it'll make much of a difference whether he's inside or outside."

- additional reporting by David Grening