10/27/2004 11:00PM

Not many hotter than Kitten's Joy

Kitten's Joy gallops at Lone Star Park. A victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf could give him the Eclipse as champion 3-year-old.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - There always seems to be an ominous quality to the Turf. As evening shadows begin to dominate the Breeders' Cup landscape and a dizzying procession of earlier races have left the massive crowd exhausted but exhilarated, there comes the inescapable feeling that, incredibly enough, the best is still to come.

And with the Turf and Classic still remaining, that is invariably true as Breeders' Cup Day approaches its apex. This year, with a colt named Kitten's Joy having captured the fancy of the racing public with his spectacular victory four weeks ago in New York, the crowd will be looking for another performance to take it to the next level.

All Dale Romans can hope is that Kitten's Joy will deliver.

"The way he's coming up to this, he's going to be tough to beat Saturday," said Romans. "He's been an amazing horse, a super horse. I think it's going to take a bad trip or something unusual to beat him."

A 38-year-old Kentuckian, Romans will be sending out his first Breeders' Cup starter when Kitten's Joy carries saddlecloth No. 4 and jockey John Velazquez against seven rivals in the 1 1/2-mile Turf.

Kitten's Joy, bred and owned by Ken and Sarah Ramsey, earned the role of heavy favorite for the $2 million Turf with his 2 1/2-length triumph in the Oct. 2 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont. Having already dominated fellow 3-year-olds by winning 7 of 8 previous starts on turf, Kitten's Joy was even more impressive in his first try against older horses in the Joe Hirsch, which came at the same distance as the Turf.

Romans and the Ramseys are hoping that a victory will not only seal an Eclipse Award as top turf horse for Kitten's Joy, but also the Eclipse for top 3-year-old. Normally, a turf horse is at a perceived disadvantage against horses who have been competing in more glamorous events on dirt, but Kitten's Joy has been so dominant in his niche that a Turf victory may be enough to topple the norm.

The list of challengers to Kitten's Joy is headed by Magistretti, the Joe Hirsch runner-up. In his second-to-last start, the Grade 1 Man o' War, Magistretti closed with a flourish to win going away.

"I know Kitten's Joy is a very good horse," said Patrick Biancone, the French trainer who guided All Along to the Horse of the Year title in North America in 1983, the year before the Breeders' Cup began. "But if you come here to the Breeders' Cup, you're already in the midst. If everyone ran the same every race, there would be no point. We are the challenger, yes, but that is before the race."

Another potential upsetter is Powerscourt, who won the Arlington Million but was disqualified to fourth about an hour before Kitten's Joy crushed 3-year-olds in the Secretariat Stakes on the same program at Arlington Park. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, Powerscourt has run just once in the interim, finishing third in the Group 1 Irish Champion in September.

Maybe the sleeper of the group is Mustanfar, another 3-year-old whose victory three weeks ago in the Sycamore at Keeneland was a visual treasure. Even after laying well off a relaxed pace, Mustanfar was still able to surge to a three-length score with a terrific late kick.

"We hope he's gotten good at the right time," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "He was striding out very impressively there at Keeneland. Now we'll see if he's good enough to run against the best in the Breeders' Cup."

Early this week, the condition of the Lone Star turf course was soft because of a Monday downpour, but drier conditions were forecast as race day approached. At least two Turf starters figure to fare better with a harder course: Star Over the Bay, who is the lone California representative, and Request for Parole, a remarkably consistent 5-year-old.

Completing the Turf cast are Better Talk Now, winner of the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga in August, and Strut the Stage, a Canadian colt whose connections, Sam-Son Farm and trainer Mark Frostad, won the 1997 Turf with Chief Bearhart.

The field

Breeders' Cup Turf
Purse: $2 million; 1 1/2 miles, turf; Grade 1

1PowerscourtJ. Spencer1267-2
2Request for ParoleP. Day12620-1
3Strut the StageC. Nakatani12630-1
4Kitten's JoyJ. Velazquez1214-5
5Better Talk NowR. Dominguez12615-1
6MagistrettiE. Prado1264-1
7Star Over the BayT. Baze1268-1
8MustanfarJ. Santos12130-1

* Odds by Mike Watchmaker