10/17/2008 12:00AM

Cup attracts record crowd

Barbara D. Livingston
Better Talk Now is back for a record-tying fifth Cup appearance.

ARCADIA, Calif. - With more races than ever, 14, now encompassing two days, the Breeders' Cup has moved far beyond its original concept of a single day with just seven races. On Thursday, the Breeders' Cup had a symbolic acknowledgment of its growth by doing a complete 180.

A total of 180 horses, led by the 2007 Horse of the Year, Curlin, were announced on Thursday as a record number of pre-entries for the 25th Breeders' Cup, to be held Oct. 24-25 at Santa Anita.

This will be the fourth time Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting has played host to the Breeders' Cup, but it will mark the first time any Breeders' Cup has had its main-track races conducted on a synthetic surface, in this case Pro-Ride.

Curlin was one of 16 horses pre-entered in the $5 million Classic, in which he is the defending champion. A victory in that race would clinch a second consecutive title as Horse of the Year for Curlin, and would make him only the second horse, after Tiznow (2000-2001), to win the Classic twice. But Curlin will be racing on a synthetic surface for the first time. Five other horses pre-entered in the Classic have never raced on a synthetic surface.

The 1 1/4-mile Classic is the richest of the 14 races, worth a total of $25.5 million. Among those entered against Curlin are the unbeaten Japanese colt Casino Drive, Pacific Classic winner Go Between, Travers winner Colonel John, and three European invaders - Duke of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator, and Raven's Pass - who heretofore have raced exclusively on turf.

"Pro-Ride might be a factor," Alistar Donald, of the International Racing Bureau, said Thursday in a teleconference from Newmarket, England. "There are three proven turf horses all committing themselves to have a go in the Classic, which we wouldn't have seen a couple of years back."

Aidan O'Brien, the trainer of Duke of Marmalade and Henrythenavigator, leads all European trainers with 10 pre-entered horses. There were 35 foreign-based horses pre-entered, a record.

John Gosden, the trainer of Raven's Pass, e-mailed Thursday to say his horse "worked nicely at Lingfield" in Great Britain on Wednesday on a left-handed, synthetic Polytrack surface.

Curlin is one of seven previous Breeders' Cup winners who were pre-entered. The others are Better Talk Now, Ginger Punch, Indian Blessing, Kip Deville, Midnight Lute, and Red Rocks.

Better Talk Now, 9, won the 2004 Turf and will be competing in the Turf for the fifth straight year, tying him for most Breeders' Cup appearances with Kona Gold and Perfect Drift. He is the oldest horse in this year's Breeders' Cup.

Ginger Punch won last year's Distaff, and will defend her title in that race, which is now known as the Ladies' Classic.

Indian Blessing, the winner last year of the Juvenile Fillies, has been pre-entered in the both the six-furlong Sprint, against males, and the seven-furlong Filly and Mare Sprint, in which she is expected to start.

Kip Deville will be attempting to defend his title in the Mile on turf, and Midnight Lute is back to defend his title in the Sprint. Red Rocks won the Breeders' Cup Turf two years ago.

Of the 14 races, the five exclusively for female horses will be run on Oct. 24, with the remaining nine races on Oct. 25.

The highlight of the Oct. 24 card is the Ladies' Classic, in which the unbeaten Zenyatta will face Cocoa Beach, Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, and Music Note. Because of the depth of quality in the Ladies' Classic, only eight horses were entered, the smallest of the Breeders' Cup fields.

But the remaining 13 races drew at least 12 pre-entries, and eight of the 14 races currently have more than the maximum allowable number of runners for each race.

Thursday's announcement was the first of a two-step entry process. At this point, horses can be pre-entered in as many as two races. Thirty horses were cross-entered, bringing the total number of entries to 210.

Next Tuesday, final entries are due. Horses who are cross-entered must be put into a single race, and then post positions are drawn for all 14 races.

Most of the races are restricted to 14 starters, but three - the Dirt Mile, Juvenile Turf, and Juvenile Fillies Turf - are limited to 12. Eight of the 14 races - Filly and Mare Sprint, Juvenile Fillies Turf, Juvenile Fillies, Turf Sprint, Dirt Mile, Juvenile, Juvenile Turf, and Classic - were oversubscribed at the pre-entry stage.

In those cases, horses in the body of the race were first determined by who had won Win and You're In qualifying races this calendar year. Winners of 38 of those races were pre-entered. Next, horses were slotted based on points earned during the year in graded stakes races. Finally, a committee of international racing officials ranked the remaining contenders.

In the Classic, for instance, 16 horses were pre-entered. Curlin, Go Between, and Well Armed won Win and You're In races and were first in. Colonel John, Pyro, Smooth Air, Student Council, and Tiago got the next five slots, based on points in graded stakes. The committee gave the final six spots to Casino Drive, Champs Elysee, Duke of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator, Mast Track, and Raven's Pass. The committee made Fairbanks and Awesome Gem alternates, in that order. They draw in if someone from the main body of the race defects between now and entry time Tuesday.

In addition, for the first time this year, the Breeders' Cup will have as many two also-eligibles per race at the final entry stage, giving those on the outside looking in a few more days to draw in. Scratch time for all 14 races is the morning of Oct. 24.

In the Classic, seven of the 16 horses were pre-entered in two races. Fairbanks (Marathon) and Well Armed (Dirt Mile) were denoted as having first preference in other races, so, in essence, all who want to run in the Classic likely will be able to run.

Casino Drive (Marathon), Mast Track (Dirt Mile), Pyro (Dirt Mile), Raven's Pass (Mile), and Awesome Gem (Mile) all have the Classic as their first choice, though they were cross-entered.

Bobby Frankel, who both trains and owns the speedy Mast Track, on Thursday at Santa Anita said he would definitely run his horse in the Classic.

"I'm going to put him on the lead and see how far he can go," Frankel said. "If he runs 1-2-3, I'll be very happy."

Frankel said he decided to run in the Classic after Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, was retired earlier in the week, forcing him out of the Classic.

"There doesn't seem to be much speed in the race," Frankel said.

Eoin Harty, the trainer of Well Armed, said no decision had yet been reached on whether to run in the Dirt Mile or the Classic. Harty also trains Colonel John, who, like Well Armed, is owned by the WinStar Farm of Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt.

"It depends on how the races shape up, then I can take my best chance accordingly," Harty said.

The field for the Classic, including jockeys where known, is Casino Drive (Victor Espinoza the rider), Champs Elysee (Alan Garcia), Colonel John (Edgar Prado), Curlin (Robby Albarado), Duke of Marmalade (either John Murtagh or John Velasquez), Go Between (Garrett Gomez), Henrythenavigator (Velasquez or Murtagh), Mast Track (Tyler Baze), Pyro, Raven's Pass (Jimmy Fortune), Smooth Air (Manoel Cruz), Student Council (Shaun Bridgmohan), Tiago (Mike Smith), and Well Armed (Aaron Gryder), with Fairbanks and Awesome Gem (Rafael Bejarano) currently outside looking in.