10/26/2005 11:00PM

Pick your favorites - or toss 'em


NEW YORK - The tag line for the new advertising campaign promoting the Breeders' Cup is "Who do you like?" It's a good catchphrase and a question horseplayers ask one another thousands of times a day. The more specific question for Saturday's eight championship events might be, "Who do you trust?"

This year's eight morning-line favorites include three undefeated horses and two of last year's winners, but there are legitimate questions surrounding every single one of the likely public choices. There has never been a Breeders' Cup without at least one winning favorite, and the 21-year record of 57 for 153 translates to a 37.25 winning rate, or just about exactly 3 for 8. But which three might it be?

The day begins with Folklore at 5-2 in the Juvenile Fillies, coming off a 14 1/2-length runaway in the Matron that earned a best-in-field Beyer Speed Figure of 99. But the Matron favorite, India, was eased, and no one else did any running in that race. Also, Folklore previously lost two of three matchups with Adieu, the second choice here, and she has drawn the rail, a tricky post going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont.

There are seemingly fewer holes to poke in First Samurai, who could well go off lower than his 8-5 morning-line odds in the Juvenile. He's unbeaten, he doesn't need the lead, he seems to have gotten over the greenness he showed in two Saratoga races, and has twice manhandled Henny Hughes, his only opponent with comparably fast races. Want something to fret about? There's his weary final quarter-mile in over 27 seconds in the Champagne, though his chasing a spectacularly fast early pace might excuse that.

Next up is the Filly and Mare Turf, which is either the easiest or hardest race of the day depending on whether 5-2 favorite Ouija Board is the same horse she was when she beat a remarkably similar field at odds of 9-10 last year. If she runs that race again, she beats Film Maker, Wonder Again, Riskaverse, and Megahertz again. The problem is that her only races since then are a 30-length defeat in June and a victory over a very weak field in a minor race in September. It's not exactly the way she came into last year's race, off a pair of Oaks victories and a good third to older males in the Arc de Triomphe.

The day's heaviest favorite comes next. Lost in the Fog is 10 for 10 in a beautifully managed campaign against 3-year-olds, and is obviously the most likely winner of the Sprint - none of which will keep contrarians from trying to beat him at likely odds of less than even money. He has never faced severe early pressure or run against older horses of this caliber, and might get cooked if he hooks up with Attila's Storm and Lifestyle.

Leroidesanimaux has won eight straight and is hands down the best horse in the Breeders' Cup Mile, but how short a price do you want to take on him over a waterlogged grass course unlike any he has raced over and which might be unkind to his front-running style?

Ashado is the 2-1 favorite to win the Distaff for the second straight year, will become racing's richest filly or mare ever if she runs first or second in her final career start, and is the only one of the 102 Cup horses who already has punched a ticket for the sport's Hall of Fame. Yet she has had an erratic season including the two worst finishes of her career, and was professional rather than dominant winning the Beldame over a surging Happy Ticket.

Then there's Shakespeare, unbeaten in five starts but a desperate nose winner of his first and only Grade 1 race and a question mark on the less-than-firm footing he will get in the Turf. He was admirable gutting out victory in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic over English Channel and Ace, but now meets several more accomplished horses than that pair, including the Europeans Bago and Azamour and last year's winner, Better Talk Now.

Finally there's Saint Liam at 3-1 in the Classic, the day's longest-priced morning-line favorite in what looks like a three-horse showdown among him, Rock Hard Ten, and Borrego. Saint Liam's a little bit faster than the others on his best days, but he has never won at 1 1/4 miles and his chronic foot problems don't inspire confidence. On the other hand, he was drawing away at the end of the four nine-furlong stakes he has won in his last six starts, and his only poor effort came after a cross-country trip.

Personally, I picked half the favorites - First Samurai, Leroidesanimaux, Ashado, and Saint Liam - and will be trying to beat Folklore, Ouija Board, Lost in the Fog, and Shakespeare. But I could neither stand alone in a pick-anything with the ones I like, nor confidently eliminate the ones I'm leaning against.

So who do you like - and trust?