11/02/2011 2:19PM

Crist: Breeders' Cup Friday looking anything but freaky

Barbara D. Livingston
Secret Circle’s two impressive victories make him the standout in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.

Friday’s six Breeders’ Cup races, a new Juvenile Sprint and then the five Cup races restricted to fillies and mares, are aesthetically appealing. They will decide four of the sport’s 2011 divisional Eclipse Awards and include some attractive matchups among the leading contenders for those prizes.

Parimutuelly speaking, however, they may disappoint horseplayers in search of clever longshots and fat multirace payoffs. Most of the races have an imposing favorite or a small handful of standouts who seem a cut above their competition.

The Juvenile Sprint, the newest of the 15 Cup races, drew a field of just nine that has combined to win only 13 races, only two of them graded stakes. There are probably plenty of trainers kicking themselves for not taking one of the five additional spots in the gate with a maiden winner or even a first-time starter: It’s a $500,000 purse for what would have been called a nonwinners-of-three allowance race a generation ago.

Still, there’s a standout in Secret Circle, whose two starts have ended in lengthy victories in times that are simply several lengths better than anyone else’s. Seemingly able to stalk what should be a hot early pace, he need only duplicate his previous efforts to run away from these. Beyond him the race seems wide open, and it might be worth trying to get pricey runners such as Holdin Bullets (15-1 morning line), Shumoos (15-1) and Blacky the Bull (20-1) into the trifecta and superfecta mix under the favorite.

There are 14 (plus two also-eligibles) in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, with two apparent standouts: Elusive Kate, a winner of four straight in Europe including a Group 1 at Longchamp, and Somali Lemonade, a last-to-first winner of both her starts. They look a cut above the rest, with the fast dirt sprinter Stopshoppingmaria and the European imports Up and Dear Lavinia slightly intriguing behind them.

The Filly and Mare Sprint is the first of four races that will probably crown a divisional champion. Two of the female sprint division’s three best this year, Sassy Image and Hilda’s Passion, are out with injuries, but the 3-year-old Turbulent Descent can probably secure the title with a victory here on top of her Santa Anita Oaks and Test triumphs. The clear second choice is Switch, who was second in this race last year and has spent much of her career mixing it up with the star fillies Zenyatta, Havre de Grace, and Blind Luck.

The Juvenile Fillies is an old-school East-West showdown for the 2-year-old filly Eclipse. New York’s two Grade 1 winners, My Miss Aurelia (Frizette) and Grace Hall (Spinaway) square off for the first time and are joined by two-time Grade 1 winner Weemissfrankie (Del Mar Debutante, Oak Leaf), and the improving Oak Leaf runner-up Candrea. I prefer My Miss Aurelia, who has been the most dominant and gives the impression of having yet more to offer, but the three others have the two-turn experience she lacks.

Stacelita has been America’s best grass filly since arriving here from France ths summer and winning the Beverly D. and Flower Bowl. She’s a lot better than the American-based fillies she has already met and who are trying her again, but she’s not necessarily better than the new wave of European imports who will line up against her. I lean slightly in favor of Nahrain, unbeaten in four starts and a determined winner of her Grade 1 debut at Longchamp last time out, but will also use the Europeans Announce and Misty For Me

Stacelita would deserve the champion grass filly title if she adds a Cup victory to her two major U.S. triumphs, even if Goldikova wins the Mile Saturday in her lone American start of the season, but a defeat could swing things in Goldikova’s favor.

The Ladies’ Classic again belies its name (and the whole concept of “Filly Friday”) since the Cup’s best fillies – Goldikova, Havre de Grace, Sarafina, and Midday – are all running against males Saturday. What we have in their absence, though, is an unusually clear-cut showdown for the 3-year-old filly championship among It’s Tricky (Acorn, Coaching Club American Oaks), Plum Pretty (Kentucky Oaks) and Royal Delta (Alabama). I’ll take Royal Delta to mow them down as she did at Saratoga, and if there’s enough pace the Californians Ultra Blend and Miss Match deserve a look to get up late for minor awards.

There’s nothing wrong with a day of formful racing at its highest level, unless you’re determined to swing for the fences in every race. This year it might pay to save the derring-do for Saturday’s nine Cup races, where the contention runs deeper and the opportunities seem greater for plausible longshots and heroic wagering scores.