07/07/2005 11:00PM

Little stands in way of Kitten's Joy


PHOENIX - It wouldn't surprise me in the least if:

* Kitten's Joy goes on to dominate the turf ranks again this season. His comeback run at Churchill Downs was terrific and laid to rest many a worry after offseason knee surgery. And those weren't a bunch of ponies he was beating - America Alive was the upset winner of the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve on the Derby undercard, Old Forester is a proven stakes horse, and Senor Swinger has been dynamite, particularly at Churchill. Kitten's Joy made them look as though they were running in sand.

This race sets him up ideally for a run at the Arlington Million, and if anything, this year's turf class might not be as strong as last year's. Better Talk Now looked good winning the Grade 1 United Nations last week, but the West Coast turfers just take turns, and some turf stars, such as Meteor Storm, don't quite look up to their previous standards. It's going to take a Euro - a big one - in order to spoil Kitten's Joy's procession to the BC Turf.

* Offlee Wild thrusts his name up there with Saint Liam and Roses in May in the handicap division's elite ranks. His Suburban win was workmanlike and professional, and, like Kitten's Joy, he laid to rest some concerns after a dull Pimlico Special and reports that he had some hind-end problems. His tractability and versatility are paramount to his success, and with no Ghostzapper in the mix, it's not hard to see him as a player right through the BC Classic. After all, the opposition he faces from here on out won't be a whole lot tougher than what he saw at Belmont this past weekend.

* Don't Get Mad becomes the biggest threat to Afleet Alex in the 3-year-old division. His fourth in the Kentucky Derby off a week layoff and his quality win in the Northern Dancer have validated his quality and proved him more than just some one-turn closer. The spring may have worked out ideally for him schedule-wise. After the Derby, his connections planned on skipping the Preakness to try the Peter Pan - with an eye toward the Belmont - but then he was forced to miss a bit of training time because of the quarantine situation at Churchill. So, instead of hooking Afleet Alex at the peak of his powers, Don't Get Mad got to regroup at Churchill, get his legs back under him, and power home in the Northern Dancer. Don't Get Mad was to have a huge test this weekend in the Grade 2 Swaps at Hollywood on Saturday. If he were to win, he might be the one that Afleet Alex should fear the most in the Haskell or Travers.

* The Euros should have a huge day at this year's Breeders' Cup. Not only do they figure to be comfortable with this year's venue, Belmont, from a climate standpoint, but they have already shown they handle the turf course - the last time the Breeders' Cup was held at Belmont, Euros finished one-two in the Turf. Besides that, it very much looks as though they're cranking their absolute best runners for this year's edition, and that would be a rarity indeed. Ouija Board is scheduled to defend her BC Filly and Mare Turf title, but may have to deal with French superstar Divine Proportions. The best Euro milers - Rakti, Soviet Song, Dubawi, and Valixir, among others - are targeting the BC Mile. Their best stayers, including Bago, Alkaased, Azamour, Grey Swallow, Cherry Mix, Phoenix Reach, Oratorio, and Ace, may take on Kitten's Joy in the BC Turf. Or, Bago may instead try dirt in the BC Classic, as that was the plan last year before his connections opted for an Arc run instead. Top 3-year-old filly Maids Causeway may also try dirt in the BC Distaff. In other words, it's entirely possible Europe is bringing a bunch of guns to a knife fight.

* The 3-year-old fillies upend the elders on their way to the BC Distaff. Splendid Blended's win in the Grade 1 Vanity at Hollywood this past weekend showed the upper crust of the 3-year-old filly division is more than capable of competing with the best of the elders, as she beat such graded-stakes winners as Andujar, Island Fashion, and Hollywood Story. Splendid Blended's success bodes well for the likes of Smuggler, Round Pond, Sis City, Spun Sugar, and Summerly. They may not be running fast, but this year they might not have to - unless Ashado and Stellar Jayne are really back to their best.