11/11/2009 12:00AM

Five solid spots to beat chalk


NEW YORK - Starting with Chief's Crown at $3.40 in the very first Breeders' Cup race 25 years ago, there have been 67 winning favorites in 194 Cup races. That works out to 34.5 percent winning favorites, right around the 37.5 percent rate I'm hoping for in Saturday's eight Cup races, where I'll be parimutuelly leaning on three favorites and trying to beat the other five.

I think Goldikova in the Mile, Mastercraftsman in the Dirt Mile, and Conduit in the Turf are the likeliest winners on the card, and I'm respectfully willing to take my chances against Interactif in the Juvenile Turf, California Flag in the Turf Sprint, Zensational in the Sprint, Lookin at Lucky in the Juvenile, and Zenyatta in the Classic.

Interactif looks like the best American hope in the Juvenile Turf, but that may still make him only fourth-best in the field of 12. Europe's best 2-year-olds race exclusively on the turf whereas ours do not. Viscount Nelson, Pounced, and Buzzword have all won or placed in Group 1 or 2 races in England, France, and Ireland that are simply better than ours.

The Turf Sprint looks like the wildest race of the weekend, the only 14-horse Cup race this year and contentious enough that last year's winner, Desert Code, is 20-1 on the morning line. California Flag faded to 10th that day, and while he'll be in front early, I'm not taking a short price on a horse who wilted in his only start against company of this caliber. I'll cast a wide net including the Europeans Strike the Deal and Lord Shanakill and the fillies Diamondrella and Gotta Have Her in a race where, after three passes, I've still got 11 of them open to win.

Zensational is California's best sprinter, with three straight Grade 1's to prove it, but he's never seen the kind of early speed or late-closing talent he faces here, and drawing the inside post didn't help his chances. Fatal Bullet is as good as the favorite and will be at least twice the price. If those two hook up early, Gayego and Capt. Candyman Can will be the beneficiaries.

The Juvenile is an utter scramble this year, with 7 of the 13 entrants trying a synthetic track for the first time. Local favorite Lookin at Lucky has done nothing wrong in four starts but is no faster than his challengers from the East and Midwest and is an underlay at 7-5. I'll root for my home team of New York stakes winners D' Funnybone and Eskendereya and give a long look at a four-ply European contingent of Alfred Nobel, Beethoven, Radiohead, and Vale of York. They're all big prices but look like a stronger overseas group than we usually get for the Juvenile.

At this point in the day, I'll stop being contrary for a while and be happy to start dining on chalk.

Goldikova will try to win the Mile again, and while she faces two good fellow Europeans this year in Zacinto and Delegator, her best race wins this.

In the so-called Dirt Mile, Mastercraftsman just looks like the best horse. His four Grade 1 victories are just one fewer than the rest of the field combined, and he was twice second this year to Sea the Stars.

Conduit goes for his second straight Turf against a less-accomplished field than he faced last year, and arguably in better form.

The day ends with the Classic, and while the heart says to root for Zenyatta to remain undefeated in her final career start and her first try against males, the head says she's a bad proposition at 5-2. You can't argue with perfection, but it will take a lot more than the efforts she's been putting up against five or six moderate fillies in her recent starts to circle and catch 12 males who have combined to win 14 Grade 1 races this year alone.

The American horses with synthetic-track experience look evenly matched on their best days without having shown anything special, so it might be a good spot to try those trying the surface for the first time. It would be heartening to see the good dirt 3-year-olds Summer Bird and Quality Road run well, but recent history suggests they're less likely to handle the surface than grass runners such as Twice Over, Rip Van Winkle, and Gio Ponti. Rip Van Winkle's no bargain at 7-2, especially amid 11th-hour reports of ongoing foot problems, but Twice Over at 20-1 and Gio Ponti at 12-1 might be worth a stab.

Perhaps the best news of the day is that, once this Classic is over, there won't be a need for quite so much stabbing in America's richest race for at least three years: The next two Classics will be run at Churchill Downs and (probably) Belmont Park on dirt, just like the first 24 were.

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