09/24/2008 12:00AM

Feared foursome may impact field size


ARCADIA, Calif. - With the sequence of Breeders' Cup races rejiggered for this year, the $2 million Ladies' Classic, annually one of the best races on the Saturday card but often overshadowed by the $5 million Classic, now is the premier event of the Friday card.

This year's race, to be run Oct. 24 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting, is likely to have one of the smallest fields among this year's 14 Breeders' Cup races. But that's because the top echelon of the Ladies' Classic includes the three best older females in the country, as well as a 3-year-old filly who is a title contender in her division.

Ginger Punch, who won the 1 1/8-mile race last year when it was known as the Distaff, is expected to defend her title. Her rivals are scheduled to include Hystericalady, who lost a heartbreaker in last year's Distaff at Monmouth Park, and the unbeaten Zenyatta. All three are scheduled to race this weekend.

In addition, Music Note, 3, who comes off a powerful victory in the Gazelle, could enhance her Eclipse Award credentials if she were to knock off her elders in the Ladies' Classic.

"She probably has to run first or second to have an impact with the voters," Rick Mettee, who oversees the training of Music Note as the New York-based assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said Wednesday. "It's going to be a tough spot for a 3-year-old, let alone with the Pro-Ride to boot."

Pro-Ride is the synthetic surface that has been installed at Santa Anita. Both Hystericalady and Zenyatta will get a dress rehearsal over the material on Saturday, when they compete in the Grade 1, $250,000 Lady's Secret Stakes. Three others were entered on Wednesday in the 1 1/16-mile Lady's Secret, including Wake Up Maggie, who was an easy winner of the Adoration Handicap on Polytrack at Del Mar.

Zenyatta is the pro-tem leader among the nation's older fillies and mares. She wrested the lead from Ginger Punch when she won the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park in April. She has won on dirt, Polytrack, and Cushion Track while compiling a perfect 7-for-7 record.

"The great thing about Zenyatta is that she runs every time," said her trainer, John Shirreffs. "I'm not too concerned about the surface for her."

It is more of a concern for Hystericalady, who is 11 for 17 on dirt, and 0 for 4 on synthetic surfaces. She will enter the Lady's Secret having won three straight races, all on dirt, by a combined margin of 19 1/2 lengths.

Ginger Punch will also have her final prep for the Ladies' Classic on Saturday, when she heads the field in the Grade 1, $600,000 Beldame Stakes at Belmont Park.

Her trainer, Bobby Frankel, is not wild about running on a synthetic surface, but said Wednesday he's "got nothing to lose" by running Ginger Punch in the Ladies' Classic.

"It's going to be one of her last races," Frankel said.

In the Beldame, Ginger Punch's challengers are expected to include Unbridled Belle, who won the Beldame last year. Her trainer, Todd Pletcher, said he would "look to give it a try" on Pro-Ride if Unbridled Belle runs well on Saturday. "She's not particularly picky about the track she runs on," Pletcher said.

The other significant prep for the Ladies' Classic is the Grade 1, $500,000 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 5. Little Belle is expected to run there, Mettee said. "She won the Ashland on Polytrack there," he said. "Hopefully, she can revert to form."

Country Star will bypass the Spinster. If she runs in the Ladies' Classic, she will be trained straight into the race, Frankel said. Country Star was injured in an accident in the starting gate prior to the Gazelle.

"She still has some stitches under her girth," Frankel said. "I haven't been able to put a saddle on her. I should be able to in the next day or two."

Frankel said Spring Waltz would not be pointed to the Ladies' Classic. She joins Proud Spell (freshened), Seattle Smooth (freshened), and Tough Tiz's Sis (retired) as recent defectors from the prospective field.