09/18/2006 11:00PM

Early look at Breeders' Cup

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Brandon Benson / NYRA
The big question about Pine Island is whether she's ready to face older females.

This Saturday at Belmont Park, the Matron for juvenile fillies and the Futurity for 2-year-olds of either sex will be run. Each race has a purse of $250,000 and will be run at seven furlongs.

While these two stakes always have been important for developing juveniles, they now are part of a compressed prep race schedule for the Breeders' Cup, which will offer a record $20 million in purses at Churchill Downs on Nov. 4.

Below are the most important of these BC prep stakes. They are all worth watching for trip notes, signs of development, and deterioration as the BC draws near. The list is followed by my top three contenders at this juncture for each BC division, and comments rating their chances.

Major B.C. prep stakes

* Sept. 23:
RACEDISTANCECONDITIONTRK
Matron7 F2YO FBEL
Futurity7 F2YOBEL
Super Derby1 1/8 M3YOLAD
Futurity7 F2YOBEL
* Sept. 30:
Kelso1 M (T)3YO & UpBEL
Oak Leaf1 1/16 M2YO FOSA
Yellow Ribbon1 1/4 M (T)F&MOSA
Clement Hirsch1 1/4 M (T)3YO & UpOSA
Ky. Cup Classic1 1/8 M3YO & UpTP
Haw. Gold Cup1 1/8 M3YO & UpHAW
* Oct. 7:
Vosburgh6 F3YO & UpBEL
Lane's End Futurity1 1/16 M2YOKEE
Joe Hirsch Turf Classic 1 1/2 M (T)3YO & UpBEL
J.C. Gold Cup1 1/4 M3YO & UpBEL
Shadwell Turf Mile1 M (T)3YO & UpKEE
Ancient Title6 F3YO & UpOSA
Goodwood1 1/8 M3YO & UpOSA
Oak Tree Mile1 M (T)3YO & UpOSA
* Oct. 8:
Spinster1 1/8 MF&MKEE
* Oct. 14:
Frizette1 M2YO FBEL
Champagne1 M2YOBEL
First Lady Stakes1 M (T)F&MKEE
Q.E. II Challenge Cup1 1/8 M3YO FKEE

Juvenile Fillies, 1 1/16 miles

1. Point Ashley: A very impressive winner of the seven-furlong Del Mar Debutante; Bob Baffert-trained, bred to improve with more distance.

2. Five Star Daydream: Shug McGaughey-trained; improved on cue to win second career outing, more development expected in the fall.

3. Octave: Finished well for her win in the 6 1/2-furlong Adirondack; trained by Todd Pletcher who, as usual, is loaded with prospects for this division.

Juvenile, 1 1/16 miles

1. Circular Quay: Powerful multiple graded stakes winner takes it easy early, but has a very strong will to win. Pletcher with a 2007 classics prospect.

2. Horse Greeley: Improved smartly to win a good maiden race and then won the Del Mar Futurity as if there is more development to come. Dick Mandella-trained.

3. Principle Secret: Won his maiden race and the Best Pal at Del Mar in eye-catching style. Another good 2007 prospect.

Sprint, 6 furlongs

1. Siren Lure: Been solid all year and has the late kick to take advantage of a contested pace. Art Sherman-trained.

2. Henny Hughes: Very fast 3-year-old was a good second in the 1 1/16-mile BC Juvenile last year and has been wisely kept sprinting in 2006. Kiaran McLaughlin- trained.

3. Too Much Bling: Another very fast 3-year-old who was wisely kept away from the Triple Crown chase. Trained by Bob Baffert, who also has the fleet filly Behaving Badly, one of several fillies and mares to watch in this division.

Filly & Mare Turf, 1 3/8 miles

1. Ouija Board: Solid, hard-hitting mare with strong prior form in this race and terrific performances in Europe this year will take plenty of beating.

2. Wait a While: Won both grass outings this year in superb style for Pletcher. A possible champion in the making who should relish the 1 3/8-mile distance.

3. Gorella: Was flying when blocked in last year's BC Mile and again when fifth against males in the Woodord Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill on Derby Day. Made a strong visual impression beating her own kind at one mile and 1 3/16 miles. Added distance a possible concern.

Mile, turf

1. Aragorn: Neil Drysdale trainee was convincing winner of two stakes at Del Mar this summer. Acts like a classy, natural miler.

2. Gorella: Fits this spot much better than the 1 3/8-mile Filly and Mare Turf.

3. George Washington: High class and consistent European miler trained by Aidan O'Brien figures to lead a typically strong European contingent in this event.

Distaff, 1 1/8 miles

1. Pine Island: 3-year-old natural router has been beautifully developed by Shug McGaughey. Won the 10-furlong Alabama and the nine-furlong Gazelle, but might need some practice against older fillies and mares.

2. Fleet Indian: Pletcher-trained 4-year-old miss has won all five of her 2006 outings while earning strong pace numbers.

3. Pool Land: Another high-class Pletcher-trained 4-year- old filly who is on a long list of realistic contenders.

Turf, 1 1/2 miles

1. Shirocco: Won this race last year and has been in top form throughout his European campaign. Logical favorite if he attempts to repeat.

2. English Channel: Was a disappointing fifth in this race last year, but improved as a 4-year-old while trading blows with high- class Cacique in four hard-fought races. Was wisely freshened by Pletcher; can run with the Europeans.

3. Showing Up: Was taken a bit out of his game doing the main chasing in the 1 3/8-mile Man o' War won by the Frankel-trained Cacique, who prefers 1 1/8 or 1 3/16 miles. Showing Up gained enormous experience and should love this route.

Classic, 1 1/4 miles

1. Bernardini: It's really too bad that Barbaro was injured and we missed out on seeing a BC Classic with both Bernardini and Barbaro in the race. While we will see Bernardini in action against Invasor, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the suspicion is that only a horse of Barbaro's quality can beat this horse at his best. Magnificently trained by Tom Albertrani.

2. Lava Man: Has been a monster in California for the past two seasons and is expected to be the main speed in this $6 million contest. Can he carry his form to Kentucky?

3. David Junior: Excellent form on turf in Europe, Dubai, and the Orient, and he is bred well enough for dirt to suggest he may follow in the tradition of Giant's Causeway and Sakhee to be a formidable contender at 10 furlongs on dirt.