09/30/2008 11:00PM

Dirt Mile field up in air


It wasn't run at a mile in its inaugural year last year and will be run on a synthetic surface this year and next, so the $1 million Dirt Mile remains racing's richest misnomer until 2010 at the earliest.

Four weeks out, it's anyone's guess what the field will look like, because "definitely maybe" is the common refrain from most barns with logical-looking contenders. This is due to several reasons:

* There is a wait-and-see attitude about Santa Anita's newly installed Pro-Ride surface. Moreover, mile races at Santa Anita feature a short run to the clubhouse turn. The Dirt Mile field will be limited to 12 runners, but outside posts obviously pose severe tactical problems.

* Unlike Europe, where top milers are held in the highest regard and campaign through a series of top-class races, the distance is a "tweener" in the United States, where the Metropolitan Handicap and the Cigar Mile are the only Grade 1 races at the distance for males 3 years old and up.

* The four Win and You're In races in the division hardly clarified matters. Salvator Mile winner Notional was injured in the Whitney and retired; Well Armed is in after a track-record win in the San Diego Handicap, but his people are leaning to the Classic; Jonesboro earned a spot winning last week's Tiznow, but with a low 85 Beyer Speed Figure; and Wasserman secured a berth taking the Longacres Mile with a 90 Beyer, but the 6-year-old gelding won't be running.

Lewis Michael qualified for the Sprint by winning the Pat O'Brien Handicap, but odds are he'll go right from that race into the Dirt Mile.

Saturday's key races to watch are the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont, the Goodwood at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meet, the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park, and the Hawthorne Gold Cup. On Sunday, the Kelso Handicap at Belmont and the Oak Tree Mile could help shape the Dirt Mile field.