10/03/2007 12:00AM

Keeneland prep key for several prospects

EmailThe field for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint could be impacted by the results of this event's final major prep race, Saturday's Grade 3, $300,000 Thoroughbred Club of America, a six-furlong stakes at Keeneland.

A field of 10 was entered Wednesday in the TCA Stakes, led by potentially prominent Filly and Mare Sprint candidates Baroness Thatcher and Wild Gams. Baroness Thatcher comes out of two strong Grade 1 efforts at Saratoga: a third in the Test, and a nose defeat in the Ballerina. Wild Gams comes off a solid second to the prolific Miss Macy Sue in the quickly run Presque Isle Downs Masters, and her closing style might be flattered by Keeneland's Polytrack.

Lady Belsara, winner of the Chicago Handicap, and Sugar Swirl, third in the Endine Handicap most recently, are others who would become legitimate Breeders' Cup candidates with good efforts Saturday.

Patrick Biancone, trainer of Baroness Thatcher as well as the undefeated sensation La Traviata, addressed speculation as to why La Traviata might face males in the BC Sprint instead of members of her own sex in this race.

This is how the thinking goes: In addition to the new Breeders' Cup races this year, there is also a new female sprinter Eclipse Award at stake. While the Filly and Mare Sprint could have a big impact on determining the divisional champion, it is also not yet a graded stakes event. Even if La Traviata ran in the Filly and Mare Sprint and won it, she would still lack a Grade 1 victory, as her only stakes win to date was an impressive romp in the Grade 3 Victory Ride. And without a Grade 1 win, La Traviata's people believe they would have a hard time lobbying for an Eclipse Award at the expense of Grade 1 winners, even if she beat them in the Filly and Mare Sprint.

"That's it, exactly," Biancone said. "The fact that this race is not graded is pushing my clients toward thinking of facing colts in the Sprint. It's that, and also that Grade 1 races mean more to fillies. When it comes to breeding, it would be better for her to have finished third in a Grade 1 race than to win a non-graded Breeders' Cup race."