10/16/2008 12:00AM

No longer drawing a capacity crowd

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In pre-expansion days, when the entire Breeders' Cup was still decided on a single afternoon, one thing could be counted on with near certainty: the starting gate would be jam packed, year in and year out, for the Sprint.

But with expansion has come more options for the fleet of foot. Rather than having to face their male counterparts in the Sprint, females can now compete against their own kind in the Filly and Mare Sprint, while turf speedsters are able to stick to their specialty and run in the Turf Sprint.

With the exception of 11-horse fields in 1991 and 2005, the Sprint featured a cavalry charge of 13 or 14 starters from 1987 through 2006. But the addition of the Filly and Mare Sprint, coupled with some untimely injuries, limited the event to just 10 runners last fall at Monmouth Park, the second smallest starting lineup in the history of the race. And this year will be no different, with a field of 10 or possibly even fewer expected for the Sprint, to be run over the Santa Anita Pro-Ride on Oct. 25.

Only 13 horses were even pre-entered for the 2008 Sprint, three of whom made the event their second preference, including Indian Blessing, who will instead be the favorite in the Filly and Mare Sprint. Lewis Michael, winner of the Pat O'Brien Handicap, one of four designated Win and You're In races for the Sprint, has given first preference to the Dirt Mile, while Tropic Storm will likely opt for the Turf Sprint.

As is so often the case, injuries have taken their toll on the prospective field. The most notable absentee this season is division leader Benny the Bull, who was retired earlier this fall. As a result, the Sprint will be a wide-open affair. Street Boss may be a slight favorite due to his proven affinity for artificial surfaces. Cost of Freedom, defending champion Midnight Lute, and Fabulous Strike also figure to receive plenty of support.

Fabulous Strike is one of two horses in this year's lineup, along with In Summation, who had to pass the 2007 Sprint due to physical issues. And trainer Todd Beattie admits it's seemed like an eternity waiting for a second chance to bring Fabulous Strike to the Breeders' Cup.

"This kind of stuff sure will test your patience," said Beattie, who along with Fabulous Strike arrived at Santa Anita on Tuesday. "It sure was disappointing we had to miss the race last year, especially after the way he won the Vosburgh. We've had some issues getting him here again this year, but right now I couldn't be happier with the way he's doing."

Fabulous Strike has started just twice in 2008, posting an easy win in the Vincent Moscarelli Memorial at Delaware Park on June 21 before finishing a very game second to Black Seventeen in defense of his Vosburgh title three months later.

"I couldn't have been more pleased with the way he ran in the Vosburgh, especially considering he ripped a shoe off in the paddock and it slid on him during the race," said Beattie. "I was extremely happy the way he galloped out past the wire, and I'm very comfortable that he'll be able to step forward off the race. Now we'll just have to hope he settles in here over the next week and all goes right."

Although Fabulous Strike has never raced on an artificial surface, he did train over the Tapeta earlier this year at Presque Isle Downs.

"This surface seems a little harder than the track at Presque Isle, but that shouldn't bother him and I'm real anxious to see how he works over it on Sunday," said Beattie. "I also hope we get lucky at the draw. I'd love to get an outside post for a change. It seems like he's always drawing on the inside."