05/03/2006 11:00PM

English Channel must hold off Cacique


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Among the many questions facing horseplayers in Saturday's Grade 1, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on the Kentucky Derby undercard is whether to back the horse expected to have the easiest trip, English Channel, or the one coming off the worst trip, Cacique.

, the 7-2 morning-line favorite, should find himself setting or pressing what should be slow fractions in the 1 1/8-mile Woodford Reserve. But to win he'll have to beat some stellar rivals, including five Grade 1 winners - Perfect Drift, Milk It Mick, Einstein, Honor in War, and Good Reward - plus Cacique, a Group 2 winner in France who was a much-troubled fourth recently in the Grade 1 Frank Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita.

Off poorly to begin that race, his first U.S. appearance, Cacique fell farther off than pace than usual and raced widest of the 13 runners through the turn and into the stretch. Closing with a flourish through the lane, he finished fourth, a neck behind victorious Milk It Mick.

A beaten favorite at 7-5 odds in the Kilroe, appears likely to be bet down from his 4-1 morning-line odds. Pat Valenzuela rides.

A half-brother to 2003 Beverly D. winner Heat Haze and full brother to Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winners Banks Hill and Intercontinental, Cacique comes into the Woodford Reserve fresh, having been unraced since the March 4 Kilroe. That was by design, said Bobby Frankel, who trains the 5-year-old Danehill horse for Juddmonte Farms.

Frankel doesn't think the horse will be affected by either the extra furlong of the Woodford Reserve or by the apparent lack of pace in the race.

"He should break better second time - they usually do," he said.

Of the many accomplished horses in the Woodford Reserve, English Channel appears to be Cacique's main rival. He earned over $1.1 million last year, winning 4 of 8 starts, and won his only race this year. Sitting just off a slow pace in the 1 1/16-mile Canadian Turf Handicap at Gulfstream Park, he withstood rallies from Woodford Reserve entrant Silver Tree and from Miesque's Approval, who subsequently upset the reigning Breeders' Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller in Keeneland's Maker's Mark Mile.

, the lone filly in the race, also figures to contend, having won an allowance at Keeneland April 19 after a third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Last September when racing in France, she finished 2 3/4 lengths in front of Cacique when second to Australian champion Starcraft in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp. Cacique finished seventh in that race.

The field

Woodford Reserve Turf Classic
Purse: $400,000; 1 1/8 miles, turf; Grade 1

1Cool ConductorC. Velasquez12220-1
2Perfect DriftM. Guidry11610-1
3CaciqueP. Valenzuela1224-1
4Milk It MickK. Desormeaux1268-1
5Fort PradoR. Albarado12420-1
6EinsteinR. Bejarano12620-1
7Silver TreeJ. Castellano1229-2
8Honor in WarD. Flores12615-1
9English ChannelG. Gomez1227-2
10Good RewardE. Prado1268-1
11GorellaJ. Leparoux1174-1

* Track odds
* Television: Saturday, 3-5 p.m. (Eastern); ESPN