10/04/2005 12:00AM

Fewer stars than usual

River Downs
Laity, easily winning the Cradle at River Downs, is the favorite for the Breeders' Futurity.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - With the 22nd Breeders' Cup set for Oct. 29 in New York, the prep races with the highest quality are being run at Belmont Park. Trainers want their horses to get a race over the track, a swing variable that has bolstered the fields at Belmont while simultaneously depleting the available pool of talent elsewhere.

This is a pattern that generally develops whenever the Breeders' Cup is held on a major circuit. For example, in years when the Breeders' Cup is held at Churchill Downs, the prep races at Keeneland frequently are the most attractive.

This is not one of those years at Keeneland. The 17-day fall meet opens Friday, and although the track's eight opening weekend stakes appear well-matched, they are not particularly strong, at least Breeders' Cup-wise. One of the linchpins of opening weekend, the $500,000 Lane's End Breeders' Futurity on Saturday, is expected to draw a field of decent size, but its quality seems to pale in comparison to its Belmont counterpart, the Champagne Stakes.

For trainer Frank Brothers, a down year for the Breeders' Futurity might be a good thing. Some 20 minutes before Brothers watches his stable ace, First Samurai, try to stay unbeaten in the Champagne, he will seek out a simulcast monitor at Belmont to watch another of his promising 2-year-olds, Laity, run as the favorite in the Breeders' Futurity.

Perhaps as a telling illustration of the chasm between the 2-year-olds in action Saturday at Belmont and Keeneland, Brothers said Laity will "have to buy his ticket" to the BC Juvenile by running well in the Breeders' Futurity. Meanwhile, the probability of First Samurai, the consensus divisional leader, wheeling back in the Juvenile seems nearly a foregone conclusion.

No worries. Laity, a Claiborne Farm homebred, set a stakes record in winning his latest start, the Cradle Stakes at River Downs, by nearly 12 lengths, and Brothers said he believes the Pulpit colt has an excellent chance to take another big step forward in the 1 1/16-mile Breeders' Futurity.

"He's a very straightforward horse with a nice turn of foot," said Brothers. "We're looking to get a good race out of him this weekend."

Laity led throughout in the 1 1/16-mile Cradle but is not a speed-crazed type. Brothers trained the colt's half-sister Trip, a multiple stakes winner, and said the siblings are very similar in demeanor.

"He's not a run-off," said Brothers. "If somebody's bound and determined, then he's going to let them go. He does a lot of things right. He's got a good mind."

Laity is one of about eight or nine 2-year-olds likely for the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity, which also is expected to get Charley Tango, Cool Creek, High Cotton, Reaffirmed, Stream Cat, and possibly Kid Lemonade. Kid Lemonade is already entered in the Dover, a $100,000 race at Delaware Park on Saturday.

The Breeders' Futurity will be co-featured with another Grade 1 race, the $600,000 Shadwell Turf Mile, on the Saturday card. The Breeders' Futurity and Shadwell Mile, along with the Champagne and Frizette Stakes, will be shown live on a 90-minute telecast on NBC Sports. Those four races will be linked together in an NTRA National Pick 4, a $1 minimum wager with a $400,000 guaranteed pool and 25 percent takeout.

The Shadwell, the richest race of the meet, might also rank among the best. Several horses who already have won a Grade 1 or Group 1 race, including Ad Valorem, Alinghi, and Host, are expected among a sizable field.

In other upcoming races at Keeneland:

* Trainer Tim Ritchey reaffirmed Tuesday on a national teleconference that he is strongly considering the Oct. 14 Perryville Stakes as a Breeders' Cup prep for Afleet Alex. Ritchey said the advantages to the $200,000 Perryville, which is run at the Beard Course distance of seven furlongs and 184 feet, are the timing and distance of the race, but shipping back and forth from the East Coast is a drawback. Afleet Alex is scheduled to breeze Friday morning at Belmont.

* About eight or nine 2-year-old fillies are likely for the opening-day feature, the $400,000 Darley Alcibiades, sister race to the Breeders' Futurity. The $100,000 Sycamore Stakes is the co-feature of the 10-race Friday opener, for which entries were to be drawn Wednesday.

* The Sunday co-features are a pair of filly and mare races: the Grade 1, $500,000 Juddmonte Spinster, at 1 1/8 miles on the dirt, and the Grade 2, $400,000 WinStar Galaxy, at one mile on turf.

* Trainer Chuck Simon said he will use the $100,000 Woodford, a 5 1/2-furlong turf race on Sunday, as a final prep for the BC Sprint for Battle Won.

* The invitation list released Tuesday for the Oct. 15 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup is headed by Garden City Breeders' Cup winner Luas Line, who is expected to run in the Grade 1 turf race.