10/27/2004 11:00PM

The do-able, the hard, the impossible


LAS VEGAS - Breeders' Cup Day. Once again we have all those chances to chase big prices on high-quality runners.

But it might be the better part of wisdom to establish some criteria for playability, before you get lured into endless and inscrutable complications.

Here's a look at this year's Breeders' Cup races, based on degree of difficulty:


Juvenile Fillies: Too tough. In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, you might be able to eliminate four or five fillies out of 14 starters in this inscrutable event. Even if you're skeptical about Sense of Style's chances - as I am - that still leaves too many possible contenders.

Mile: A wild, wide-open, overcrowded affair - as usual. Last year's winner, Six Perfections, is looking to repeat, but she earned only a 105 Beyer in last year's victory. Eight or 10 of her 2004 competitors can do that. There is one potential standout: If Whipper runs his best race - and can avoid the inevitable traffic jams - he has the Timeform ratings to beat these.

Juvenile: In a field of eight, five runners have solid figure credentials. Even the two European entrants can't be totally dismissed in exotics. An exciting race to watch, but too competitive for betting purposes.


Classic: Three contenders stand out, but all of them have big question marks. Ghostzapper's figures are impressive, but the Woodward was a brutally tough race - an all-out duel through the entire stretch after racing most of the turn in the five and six paths. With only three races this year, and a six-week layoff since the Woodward, it's certainly possible that Ghostzapper can reproduce one of his 120-plus Beyers. If he does, he'll very likely win. But he could also have peaked too soon.

Roses in May proved in the Whitney that he has speed and stamina, as well as unusual courage. He's certainly capable of running a Beyer in the 116 range - the typical winning figure for the Classic. But Roses in May has run only once since the Whitney, a rather drab performance in the Kentucky Cup Classic (Beyer 105), which makes one wonder if the draining performance in the Whitney just took too much out of Roses in May.

Pleasantly Perfect deserves to be the favorite here. He won this race last year with a huge 119 Beyer. He beat the outstanding Medaglia d'Oro twice, most recently in the Dubai World Cup. But questions linger about the "Dubai effect," and the long layoff since he won the Pacific Classic. And his Beyers at Del Mar (102 and 112) are troubling. Can he return to that 119 level? My guess is that he will.

Funny Cide is an intriguing possibility. While he is most likely a cut below the top contenders, he has shown tremendous determination in his last two efforts. He's a must-use in exactas and trifectas. If Birdstone continues to improve, he could also get into the top four finishers. As for Azeri, she would have been much better served in the Distaff. She has never run a race that would make her competitive in this year's Classic.

Sprint: According to the Beyers, you can isolate six contenders here - seven, if you want to include last year's winner, Cajun Beat, although a repeat performance of last year's 120 Beyer seems unlikely. These six have a reasonable chance of producing a figure of 110 or higher at six furlongs. Clock Stopper is consistent, but he has been beaten, if narrowly, by a number of his competitors. Champali is coming off a lifetime-best 112 at Keeneland. Speightstown finally bounced last time out down to a 102 after a string of 116-115-117. Can he immediately jump back up to that level? Midas Eyes (post 13) was impressive at Saratoga. Gold Storm has recent Beyers of 111 and 110. But I would give a slight edge to Kela, who had figures of 114 and 116 earlier this year, and, unlike most of his competition, has had time (10 weeks) to recover from those efforts and produce a peak performance.


Distaff: With Azeri running in the Classic, Ashado becomes the legitimate favorite. Nebraska Tornado, if she handles the dirt, could add a little value. Otherwise, Stellar Jayne and Storm Flag Flying are the logical horses underneath in exactas.

Filly and Mare Turf: Ouija Board's connections made the wise choice and will run in this race rather than in the much, much tougher Turf. And she has this field at her mercy. Her Timeform ratings put her in the 110-111 Beyer range, far beyond any of her competition here, except for Wonder Again's absolute best.

Turf: Magistretti and Powerscourt have run figures solidly above the rest - except for Kitten's Joy, who could very well be one of the best grass horses we've ever seen in this country. A repeat of his awe-inspiring effort in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic would leave everyone chasing in vain.