10/10/2007 12:00AM

Big Six scaring off competition

EmailThe strong core group of contenders for the Breeders' Cup Classic has largely scared off any fringe players, so the field will not come anywhere close to the maximum of 14.

The prospect of facing Any Given Saturday, Curlin, Hard Spun, Lawyer Ron, Street Sense, and Tiago is not being taken lightly, least of all by Richard Dutrow Jr., the trainer of Diamond Stripes, who won last week's Meadowlands Cup.

"I'm going to pre-enter in the Classic and the Dirt Mile to keep my options open, bide my time, see how it unfolds," Dutrow said Wednesday. "If it comes up wet, and a couple of the top horses come up with issues and don't run, that might move me up."

Dutrow said he could skip the Breeders' Cup entirely with Diamond Stripes and instead focus on either the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct or the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, both in November.

"I don't want to go head's up with all those horses in the Classic if they all run," Dutrow said.

Several other fringe players - Grasshopper, Political Force, and Timber Reserve - also are out of contention.

Grasshopper, second in the Travers Stakes and Super Derby, is "going to be given the rest of the season off," trainer Neil Howard said Wednesday.

"We think he has a chance to be a really good horse next year," Howard said.

Political Force has been retired and begins stud duty next spring in Kentucky.

Timber Reserve exited last month's win in the Pennsylvania Derby with a hoof injury that has prevented him from having a workout since the race.

"He shed the frog in his right front," his trainer, John Kimmel, said Wednesday. "He's back galloping, but he hasn't breezed since the Pennsylvania Derby, so we're looking at a really short time frame. To have to put up that kind of money for an entry fee when you know he's not 100 percent is just not in our best interests. The Classic is such a tough race."

Curlin, the Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, is training on the Polytrack at Keeneland. Asked what work schedule he'd like to have in a perfect world, trainer Steve Asmussen replied, "He's going to work next Monday, then the Monday of Breeders' Cup week. That's why he's training at Keeneland, because it is a perfect world. We don't have to worry about the weather. We can make a schedule and stick to it."