10/14/2004 11:00PM

Distaff the race for Musical Chimes


PHOENIX - Word is trainer Neil Drysdale has made a decision about where he will place crack filly Musical Chimes when it comes to pre-entering for the Breeders' Cup. After a gutty, narrow win over males in the Grade 2 Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile last weekend, Drysdale has apparently opted to point for the equivalent on Breeders' Cup Day - the BC Mile.

Surely this is biting off a lot. The males in the Oak Tree BC Mile were good, but not great. She now must take on Special Ring, Blackdoun, Artie Schiller, and Nothing to Lose, among others - and those are just the Americans. She will also likely be pitted against some of Europe's best milers, including Whipper, Cacique, and last year's BC Mile heroine, Six Perfections.

The fact that a number of fillies have won the BC Mile is certainly on the asset side of the ledger for Musical Chimes. But they were true, world-class milers. Musical Chimes is very nice indeed, but a world-class miler? I'm not so sure.

So you're probably asking yourself, why not go in the BC Filly and Mare Turf? Wouldn't that be a more logical spot since she's proven top class against her own sex? Drysdale has a good reason for rebuffing this, however - the distance. The BC Filly and Mare Turf is slated for 1 3/8 miles this year. That's likely a furlong farther than she prefers; maybe even two.

But I see another option: Why not give the BC Distaff a whirl? I can hear the naysayers already: "It would be her first time on dirt, and against that competition, isn't that asking too much?"

Yes, it's indeed asking a lot. But in many regards that's the business you're in as a horseman. And didn't things just get a whole lot cozier in the Distaff?

After all, Sightseek, Wild Spirit, and last year's upset winner, Adoration, are retired, and Halfbridled and Madcap Escapade were waylaid by injury. All-world Azeri is still around, but her connections are kicking around the notion of trying the boys in the BC Classic. Even though that may be a remote possibility, taking a swing at Azeri may, in many ways, be a better risk than the other two options. Other contenders such as Island Fashion, Ashado, and Society Selection are nice indeed, but they don't instill the same fear as many of the males (or even females) she would be facing in either of the other two events.

When people look back on great Breeders' Cup training jobs, there are those that just jump out at you - Michael Dickinson getting Da Hoss his second BC Mile win after being gone forever, Ross Fenstermaker training Precisionist up to the BC Sprint after many months off and winning. But lost in the all the hoopla of the 1989 Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream and the huge showdown between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in the Classic was Neil Drysdale's ultimate achievement. He took a 3-year-old who had never been on turf, tossed him in against some of the best Europe had to offer - and came away with a victory. The training job with Prized was nothing short of sensational, and a key element there translates well to this situation: The primary hurdle involved was surface, not distance.

Prized was by Kris S., so from a pedigree standpoint there was no concern about turf or distance. Still, you never really know they will do it until they actually go out and do it. Musical Chimes comes with some of the same attributes. Surely nine furlongs figures to be her best game, so the distance of the Distaff is no issue. As far as pedigree goes, she's by In Excess, who, like his daughter, began his career in Europe as a nice horse, then came to the United States and continued to be a fine horse on turf. It was when they moved him to dirt, however, that he went through the roof.

In Excess was six for 14 on turf, including two Grade 3 stakes wins, both at Santa Anita. All he did when moved to the dirt was go 5 for 11 and rack up wins in the Grade 1 Met Mile, Grade 1 Suburban, Grade 1 Whitney, Grade 1 Woodward, and Grade 2 San Fernando, with four other graded-stakes placings. He went from being a good horse on turf to a sensational horse on dirt. In fact, despite running poorly in the BC Mile in 1991, he was the best older horse in the nation that year, even if the Eclipse went to BC Classic hero Black Tie Affair.

In other words, many of the same things Drysdale had going for him when he made the surface switch successfully with Prized are with him again here should he opt to try the dirt in the Distaff. He was publicly mulling over the possibility of taking on Azeri or Sightseek on the dirt in New York a few weeks ago, but the situation didn't develop the way he preferred.

Neil - at least pre-enter in the Distaff. It gives you a week and a half to mull it over, and maybe by then you can convince yourself it's worth taking a whack (particularly for another $500,000). And since you're the only one who has been able to do it so far, along with Andre Fabre and Arcangues, you would know best if it can work.