10/05/2004 11:00PM

For Kitten's Joy, the big question is: Who will ride him?


The Joe Hirsch Turf Classic gave the Breeders' Cup Turf its likely favorite. The Clement Hirsch gave the Turf perhaps its most compelling story. And the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe apparently failed to give the Turf much of anything.

This was the fallout from a weekend that figures to carry the greatest impact on the $2 million Turf when it is renewed Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.

The Joe Hirsch, run Saturday at Belmont Park, resulted in a truly awesome display by Kitten's Joy, an El Prado colt who had dominated his fellow 3-year-olds but was trying older horses for the first time. Kitten's Joy earned a 114 Beyer Speed Figure in winning by 2 1/2 lengths and now is the probable favorite for the Turf.

"He's a super horse," said trainer Dale Romans.

Romans said he is encouraged by the fact that 3-year-olds have fared relatively well in the 20-year history of the Turf. Four 3-year-olds have won the 1 1/2-mile race: Lashkari (1984), Manila (1986), Prized (1989), and Tikkanen (1994).

Romans said he and owner Ken Ramsey would decide "probably later this week" who will get the mount on Kitten's Joy in the Turf. John Velazquez rode him Saturday in place of Jerry Bailey, who is expected back from injury for the Breeders' Cup.

The Clement Hirsch Turf Championship, run Sunday at Santa Anita, showcased the persistence and consistency that an overachieving 6-year-old named Star Over the Bay has used all year to thwart his West Coast rivals.

"This puts us in the Turf," said trainer Mike Mitchell, who claimed the striking gray gelding for $80,000 in May for a partnership that includes about 70 people.

The Arc, run Sunday at Longchamp in Paris, typically produces a major contender or two for the Turf. It still may do so, even though the Arc winner, Bago, is headed for the BC Classic, and his three closest pursuers have been ruled out of the Turf. Fifth-place finisher North Light, one of the Arc favorites off his big races in the Irish and Epsom derbies, is doubtful to run. Other Arc also-rans unlikely to run, according to the International Racing Bureau, are Valixir, Grey Swallow, and Prospect Park.

Powerscourt, the first-place finisher (though disqualified) in the Arlington Million, is still likely for the Turf after skipping the Arc with a minor ailment incurred in the Sept. 11 Irish Champion. Two other Euros, Warrsan and Mubtaker, also are being seriously considered for the race.

In Kentucky, trainer Patrick Biancone confirmed Magistretti, the Joe Hirsch runner-up, as a definite starter. Plans are not as firm for Tycoon, third in the Joe Hirsch, although the IRB said trainer Aidan O'Brien is leaning to the Turf.

Trainer Michael Matz said he is "still more than 50-50" toward the Turf for Kicken Kris, who "very much disliked the soft turf" when fading badly in the Joe Hirsch.

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

1Kitten's JoyD. Romans3-1
Truly exciting performer answered every question in the Joe Hirsch
2North LightSir M. Stoute6-1
Ran tremendous to be fifth in the Arc after disputing a very quick pace
3PowerscourtA. O'Brien8-1
Finished first in the Million, which has become a very productive race
4MagistrettiP. Biancone5-1
This is a good horse, yet Kitten's Joy made total mincemeat of him
5TycoonA. O'Brien8-1
A game third in the Joe Hirsch after an - ahem - unconventional ride
6ValixirA. Fabre12-1
Breaking from post 19 of 19 didn't help his chances much in the Arc
7WarrsanC. Brittain15-1
Finished ninth in the Arc, just ahead of Valixir, without an excuse
8Star Over the BayM. Mitchell15-1
Nice story: this $80K claim is now the best turf horse in California
9Kicken KrisM. Matz20-1
It may really be true that he didn't handle off going in the Joe Hirsch
10SarafanN. Drysdale20-1
He has lost something off his fastball, yet is close to Star Over the Bay

- 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.