10/20/2008 12:00AM

Lots of action on, off track for Classic

Barbara D. Livingston
Curlin, who will be favored to defend his Breeders' Cup Classic title on Saturday, has his final work on Monday over the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Whether it was the final workouts by leading contenders, switching to other Breeders' Cup races, or outright defections, the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita had plenty of activity, both on and off the track, Monday.

Curlin, the defending Classic champion, and his Steve Asmussen-trained stablemates Pyro and Student Council, along with rivals Champs Elysees and Colonel John, all worked Monday at Santa Anita, and Go Between drilled at Churchill Downs. Well Armed, pre-entered in two races, was confirmed by trainer Eoin Harty as a starter in the Dirt Mile, while Awesome Gem, also pre-entered in two races, will go in the Mile on turf.

In addition, Mast Track developed a quarter crack Monday and is now out of the Breeders' Cup, according to Bobby Frankel, his trainer and owner. With Mast Track and Well Armed, two speed horses, now out of the Classic, there was the strong possibility that Fairbanks, who also was pre-entered in the 1 1/2-mile Marathon, would now opt for the 1 1/4-mile Classic, trainer Todd Pletcher said.

Pletcher said Monday that "based on my last conversation with Barry Irwin," the president of the Team Valor syndicate that owns Fairbanks, "we are leading toward the Classic."

There were 16 horses pre-entered last week in the Classic, and seven of the 16 were pre-entered in a second race. On Tuesday, final entries were due, at which time horses had to be put in a single race, and all 14 Breeders' Cup races - five on Friday, nine on Saturday - were to be drawn. This year, for the first time, as many as two also-eligibles were to be drawn in oversubscribed races. Scratch time for both Friday and Saturday is Friday morning.

It appeared 13 would enter the Classic, one fewer than the maximum allowed. The favorite will be Curlin, who won the race last year at Monmouth Park to secure the 2007 title as Horse of the Year. In his final work for the Classic, Curlin breezed a half-mile in 49.60 seconds on Monday. The Classic will mark Curlin's first start on a synthetic surface.

"It's a huge variable," Asmussen said. "I feel synthetic is a third surface," after dirt and turf.

Carlos Rosas, Asmussen's top exercise rider, was aboard Curlin and also worked both Pyro and Student Council on Monday morning.

Pyro was timed in 51.20 seconds for a half-mile, and, like Curlin, had the worked termed "breezing" by the track's clockers. Pyro was pre-entered in both the Dirt Mile and the Classic, but Asmussen said Monday that Pyro would run in the Classic and that Julien Leparoux would ride.

The Classic was chosen over the Dirt Mile because of "how fast the track seems to be running, how fast the races are being run," Asmussen said, referring to the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita. "A mile would be borderline for Pyro."

Student Council completed his half-mile work in 48 seconds. He bore out while coming under the finish line, but Rosas said later he moved Student Council off the rail on purpose.

"I just wanted to slow him down," Rosas said.

Student Council has looked particularly sharp the past two weeks.

"I feel he's sitting on a huge race," Asmussen said.

Also turning in strong drills were Champs Elysees and Colonel John.

Champs Elysees worked five furlongs in 59.60 seconds for Frankel. Goncalino Almeida was aboard, but Alan Garcia will have the mount Saturday. Champs Elysees wore blinkers in the work and will wear them for the first time in a race on Saturday, Frankel said.

"He looked great," Frankel said. "I liked the way he was moving over the track. He was really reaching."

Frankel said the blinkers made Champs Elysees "try harder."

Colonel John, who won the Santa Anita Derby here earlier in the year, breezed a half-mile in 49.20 seconds under Iggy Puglisi. Edgar Prado has the mount in the Classic.

"He always works like that. He's super fit," said Harty, who trains Colonel John. "He likes this track."

Go Between has been training at Churchill Downs, where he worked a half-mile in 48.20 seconds for trainer Bill Mott. He was scheduled to fly here Tuesday.

European entrants Duke of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator, and Raven's Pass all were scheduled to arrive here late Monday. John Velazquez will ride Henrythenavigator now that John Murtagh has committed to Duke of Marmalade, according to Velazquez's agent, Angel Cordero Jr.

The defections of Mast Track (injured) and Well Armed (Dirt Mile) opened the possibility of Awesome Gem getting into the Classic. Though Awesome Gem was third in last year's Classic, a Breeders' Cup committee of racing officials had him ranked last of the 16 Classic runners at pre-entry time last week. Awesome Gem also was pre-entered in the Mile on turf, and on Monday his connections decided the Mile was a better spot.

"There's a lot of pace in that race," said Jeff Bloom, the vice president of West Coast operations for West Point Thoroughbreds, the syndicate that owns Awesome Gem. "Even though he could get in the Classic, we've decided to run in the Mile."

This will be the fourth Breeders' Cup run at Santa Anita, which was hit by a heat wave the last time the Breeders' Cup was here, in 2003. It was cool on Monday, with a high of 73 degrees, but it was expected to get warmer over the next few days, with a high of 91 forecast on Wednesday by Weather.com.

The forecast for Friday and Saturday is for a high of 83 degrees. There is absolutely no rain in the forecast for the week.