10/18/2008 12:00AM

Cocoa Beach serves notice

Barbara D. Livingston
Music Note, a 3-year-old who will face more seasoned rivals in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 at Santa Anita on Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Anticipation for the coming week's Breeders' Cup festival at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting ratcheted up several notches on Saturday, when leading challengers to the established favorites in both the Breeders' Cup Classic and Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic turned in their final drills.

Here at Santa Anita, Cocoa Beach, Ginger Punch, Music Note, and the longshot Bear Now - all of whom will take on the unbeaten Zenyatta on Friday in the $2 million Ladies' Classic - had workouts, with Cocoa Beach impressing most with a swift, best-of-the-morning drill.

And across town at Hollywood Park, Tiago and Awesome Gem went six furlongs in their final works before taking on Curlin next Saturday in the $5 million Classic.

Santa Anita was abuzz Saturday morning. The hot weather of recent weeks broke, leaving a cooler morning. The skies were mostly clear, just a few insignificant clouds, with the San Gabriel Mountains looming majestically. It could not have been nicer. Dozens of fans took advantage of both the hospitable climate and the arrival of top-class horses and congregated at Clockers' Corner to get an up-close view of the elite runners who will compete in the 25th Breeders' Cup.

Zenyatta completed her work for the Distaff on Friday at Hollywood Park, and while she will be a heavy favorite, Cocoa Beach served notice on Saturday that she is coming up to the race of her life. Track clockers had her speeding five furlongs in 57.80 seconds, the fastest time of 54 at the distance. Rick Mettee, the United States-based assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said Cocoa Beach worked a half-mile, and galloped out five furlongs. Mettee said he clocked Cocoa Beach in 46.20 seconds - which would have bested the fastest official half-mile of the morning - and had her galloping out in 59 seconds.

Regardless, "obviously she breezed very quickly," Mettee said. "She's a good work filly."

Cocoa Beach comes off an upset of Ginger Punch in the Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park on Sept. 27. She arrived here this past week. Saturday's work will be her lone drill over the Pro-Ride surface prior to the Ladies' Classic, which will mark her first start on a synthetic surface.

"We understand from the other trainers here that when horses go well over this surface, they really go well," Mettee said. "She worked really well at Belmont after her last race, but the work today might have been better. No question, that was a good piece of work.

"Saeed and I know that she has to run faster than she has to get in Zenyatta's league. But I don't think we've seen her best yet."

Music Note, like Cocoa Beach, is trained by Suroor and Mettee and owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing. She covered five furlongs in 1:00.60.

"That's about what we expected," Mettee said. "She didn't seem to grab the track as well as Cocoa Beach did. She didn't grab the track quite as well as she did at Belmont Park."

Music Note most recently won the Gazelle at Belmont on Sept. 13. Music Note, 3, will be facing older fillies in a stakes race for the first time. She is the only 3-year-old in the Ladies' Classic, which had eight pre-entries.

Ginger Punch, who won the Ladies' Classic last year when the race, run at Monmouth Park, was still named the Distaff, worked five furlongs in 1:00.60 for trainer Bobby Frankel.

Bear Now, who is coming off a win in the Kentucky Cup Distaff at Turfway on Sept. 27, also worked five furlongs, and was timed in 1:03.40 while staying well off the rail throughout. She is trained by Reade Baker.

At Hollywood Park, Santa Teresita, who figures to be the longest shot in the Ladies' Classic, worked six furlongs in 1:14.40 for trainer Eric Guillot.

While the Ladies' Classic will have the smallest field among the 14 Breeders' Cup races, the Classic should have close to a full field of 14. Tiago was a distant fifth in the race last year against Curlin, and though he has won just once in seven starts this year, his trainer, John Shirreffs, believes Tiago is training better than he has all year.

On Saturday, Tiago worked six furlongs at Hollywood Park in 1:12.60 with his regular jockey, Mike Smith.

"I thought he went very well. He finished very strongly. I'm very happy," Shirreffs said.

Tiago's lone win this year came in his only start on traditional dirt, in the Oaklawn Handicap. This summer at Del Mar, Tiago was training so poorly that Shirreffs got him out of there and sent him back to Hollywood Park. When Tiago raced in the Goodwood Stakes on Sept. 27, it marked his first start since the Hollywood Gold Cup three months earlier. He finished second in the Goodwood to Well Armed.

"He came out of his last race feeling good. It wasn't hard on him," Shirreffs said. "I don't think he'll bounce. He's moved forward in his training.

"After the Gold Cup, we did a lot of diagnostic work on him, and it was all clean. I had a feeling, and was hoping, that at Del Mar it was the surface that was bothering him, nothing else. It turned out that was it."

Shirreffs, who also trains Zenyatta, said his two Breeders' Cup runners would go to Santa Anita on Wednesday after training that morning at Hollywood Park.

Awesome Gem, who finished third in last year's Classic, worked six furlongs in 1:11.80 for trainer Craig Dollase. Of the 16 pre-entries in the Classic, he was ranked last in a field that can have a maximum of 14 runners. He also was pre-entered in the Mile on turf, but if Well Armed (Mile) and Fairbanks (Marathon), who also were cross-entered, go in their races of first preference, Awesome Gem will get in.

Final entries are due Tuesday morning, and post positions for all 14 Breeders' Cup races will be drawn that day.