10/03/2006 11:00PM

Circular Quay, Horse Greeley get their all-important two-turn preps

Email

Although four weeks remain until the $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs, there will not be a more important weekend leading up to the race than this one, when most of the Juvenile's leading contenders compete in a pair of races that, like the Juvenile, are at two turns and 1 1/16 miles.

In both cases, the likely favorites will be trying two turns for the first time.

At Keeneland, pro-tem leader Circular Quay heads a field of eight that was entered Wednesday in the Grade 1, $500,000 Breeders' Futurity on Saturday. His rivals include Great Hunter, who most recently was second in the Del Mar Futurity.

Horse Greeley, the Del Mar Futurity winner, is expected to head the field in the Grade 2, $250,000 Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting Sunday. Among his rivals are Principle Secret, who won Del Mar's Best Pal Stakes; Black Seventeen and Malt Magic, who were dazzling maiden winners at Del Mar; and Cal-bred stakes winner Spot the Diplomat.

Besides the lineups, the key difference between the Breeders' Futurity and the Norfolk is Polytrack, which has been installed at Keeneland. Circular Quay is at Keeneland in large part because co-owner Michael Tabor wants him to race on on synthetic surfaces, when appropriate, according to trainer Todd Pletcher. Great Hunter has trained well on the new Cushion Track synthetic surface at Hollywood Park, which emboldened trainer Doug O'Neill to race him on Polytrack.

By contrast, trainer Bob Baffert is keeping Malt Magic at Santa Anita because he does not want Malt Magic's final prep to come on an artificial surface. Churchill Downs has a conventional dirt surface.

"It's a Grade 1, it's double the purse of the Norfolk, and it's on Polytrack," O'Neill said of the Breeders' Futurity. "The race out here might be marginally tougher, and the purse is less," he said of the Norfolk. O'Neill said he expects Great Hunter, a chestnut son of Aptitude, to improve with distance.

"He should love it," O'Neill said. "He trains like a horse who should have no problem with distance."

Victor Espinoza will ride Great Hunter at Keeneland because Corey Nakatani is riding Lava Man for O'Neill that day in the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita. Espinoza is the regular rider for Horse Greeley, who emerged as the West's best prospect when he won the Del Mar Futurity. Horse Greeley suffered his lone loss against Principle Secret, who subsequently took the Best Pal.

Malt Magic, who beat maidens going a mile in his last start, was one of seven winners Espinoza rode on Sept. 4.

"It looks like he likes two turns," said Baffert. "There's a big difference when you know they can do it. I thought about going to Keeneland, but I didn't know what to think of Polytrack yet."