10/13/2004 12:00AM

European defections place Kitten's Joy on higher pedestal


With a handful of European contenders for the Breeders' Cup Turf dropping from consideration this week it appears Kitten's Joy will be an even heavier favorite for the race than he was following his overwhelming victory in the Oct. 2 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic.

Although circumstances could change by the time Breeders' Cup Ltd. takes pre-entries Monday for all eight championship events, the field for the Turf appears very unlikely to reach its 14-horse limit. The winnowing of the prospective cast included official word this week from Europe that several of its leading lights will not be on the Oct. 25 charter flight scheduled to transport runners from Ireland to Dallas.

North Light, the Epsom Derby winner, is the most notable name on a list of defections that also includes Tycoon, Valixir, Warrsan, and, most likely, Mubtaker. Officials with the International Racing Bureau and news sources are reporting that Powerscourt, who in his latest race for trainer Aidan O'Brien finished first but was disqualified to fourth in the Arlington Million, remains likely to contest the Turf, and another O'Brien-trained horse, Acropolis, also is under serious consideration. Yet another O'Brien horse, Tycoon, reportedly was sold recently to Godolphin and has been shipped off to Dubai.

Those developments appear to make Kitten's Joy the obvious horse to beat in the Turf. Last weekend, trainer Dale Romans confirmed that John Velazquez will retain the mount on Kitten's Joy, an announcement that snubbed Jerry Bailey, who missed the Joe Hirsch because of an injury. Bailey had ridden Kitten's Joy in five of his six previous races.

Bailey may still have a chance, however, to win the race. "We're hoping to pick something up in the next couple of days," said Bailey's agent, Ron Anderson.

With so many Europeans out, the trainers of several East Coast horses that have enjoyed unspectacular but productive seasons are likely to send their charges to Dallas. Those horses are Kicken Kris, Better Talk Now, Request for Parole, and Balto Star.

Michael Matz, trainer of Kicken Kris, said, "You normally don't dodge just one horse," referring to Kitten's Joy. Matz said he is leaning toward running despite a poor effort over yielding turf in the Joe Hirsch.

Trainer Graham Motion said Better Talk Now also is probable for the Turf. "He worked Friday at Fair Hill and is doing great," said Motion. "We held him out of the Joe Hirsch by design. I wanted to have a fresh horse in case we wanted to run in Texas."

Trainer Stan Hough said Request for Parole, who worked Wednesday at Belmont, may run in the Oct. 24 Canadian International, but is more likely for the Turf. Pat Day is a possible jockey for the Turf, Hough said.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said Wednesday he intends to pre-enter Balto Star in the Turf and Mile off a victory in the Meadowlands Cup on dirt.

Turf Contenders
3-year-olds & up, 1 1/2 miles (turf). Purse: $2 million.

1Kitten's JoyD. Romans5-2
Truly exciting performer answered every question in the Joe Hirsch
2PowerscourtA. O'Brien6-1
Finished first in the Million, and is also being considered for the Classic
3MagistrettiP. Biancone5-1
This is a good horse, yet Kitten's Joy made total mincemeat of him
4AcropolisA. O'Brien8-1
Finished ahead of a lot of good horses when fourth in the Arc at 84-1
5Star Over the BayM. Mitchell12-1
Nice story: this $80K claim is now the best turf horse in California
6Kicken KrisM. Matz12-1
It may really be true that he didn't handle off going in the Joe Hirsch
7SarafanN. Drysdale15-1
He has lost something off his fastball, yet is close to Star Over the Bay
8Better Talk NowH. G. Motion20-1
Even if he runs back to his Sword Dancer, he has his work cut out
9Request for ParoleS. Hough20-1
It may be that firm going, and the tighter Lone Star turns, will suit him
10Balto StarT. Pletcher15-1
Constantly surprises me, but has still never beaten rivals like these

- The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.