10/27/2004 11:00PM

Pleasantly Perfect tries for encore

Birdstone, the Belmont and Travers winner, gallops at Lone Star under exercise rider Maxine Correa. He has been battling a skin rash.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Put together horses who collectively have won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, Belmont, Travers, Dubai World Cup, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Woodward, Whitney, Pacific Classic, Meadowlands Cup, Stephen Foster Handicap, and last year's Breeders' Cup Classic, and been named Horse of the Year, and what do you have?

The race of the year.

Saturday's $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Lone Star Park has drawn an outstanding field, one that could affect championships in four divisions - Horse of the Year, older horse, 3-year-old colt, and older female.

Pleasantly Perfect was 14-1 when he won last year's Classic, but he is expected to start as the favorite against 12 rivals on Saturday. He has proven himself the best horse in the world at the Classic's 1 1/4-mile distance. Since last year's Classic, he has won the Dubai World Cup and Pacific Classic, both 10-furlong races. His proficiency at the distance gives him an edge over his competition.

"I hope he makes a big run around the backside and the turn and away we go," said his trainer, Richard Mandella. "I want him to be quiet the first part, but I don't want him to be quiet the last part."

Pleasantly Perfect prefers to come from behind, but he does not drop back as far as he did early in his career. The race should be truly run, as there is enough pace with the likes of Azeri, Ghostzapper, and Roses in May to give all runners a fair shot.

"I don't think the pace matters as much as good racing luck," Mandella said. "He can adjust to the pace. He's done that all year."

Ghostzapper is unbeaten in three starts this year, including the Woodward. He has never raced beyond 1 1/8 miles, so distance is a question. But if it rains Saturday afternoon, he could be lethal, as he loves an off track.

"I'm really excited about him," said his trainer, Bobby Frankel. "He's training great. He's sounder than ever."

Roses in May is unbeaten in five starts this year, including the Whitney Handicap. He has trained strongly all week here, and has a bit of a mean streak that should serve him well in this scrum. He has the speed to be on or near the lead.

"It's going to be a contested pace," said his trainer, Dale Romans. "It's just a matter of whether he's going to be close to it, or on it."

Birdstone is trying to win the Belmont, Travers, and Classic in succession. The slightly built colt could be Horse of the Year and champion 3-year-old colt if he wins his first stakes start against older horses. He has been battling a skin rash this week.

"It's a very, very tough race," said his trainer, Nick Zito. "Azeri should go, with a couple breathing on her, and hopefully we won't be far away."

Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, is attempting to become the first female to win the Classic. She would have been favored in the Distaff, but will be a mid-priced runner in the Classic. She was eighth in her only previous start against males, in the Metropolitan Handicap.

"She's on the top of her game right now, and we think [this] race will be her best," said Michael Paulson, who owns Azeri.

Funny Cide won last year's Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and returned to that good form in his last start when he captured the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

"He was better than he's ever been for the Gold Cup, and he's the same now, or better," said Robin Smullen, Funny Cide's exercise rider and the assistant to trainer Barclay Tagg. "It could be it took him this long to recover from last year's Triple Crown. Who knows how much that took out of him?"

Perfect Drift has been the hard-luck horse of 2003. He was second to Pleasantly Perfect in the Pacific Classic, and to Roses in May in the Whitney. Last year, he won the Stephen Foster Handicap, beating eventual Horse of the Year Mineshaft.

Dynever, who captured last year's Lone Star Derby, is the only horse in the Classic with a win over the track. He was third in last year's Classic.

Bowman's Band won last year's Meadowlands Cup, but is winless in 12 starts since then. Fantasticat won the Super Derby but has never been in a Grade 1 race, nor faced older runners in a stakes. Freefourinternet upset Perfect Drift in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. Newfoundland was second to Funny Cide in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but was well beaten by Ghostzapper and Roses in May in previous starts. Personal Rush, who has won 3 of his last 4 in Japan, has looked out of sorts all week, washing out with every appearance on the track.

- additional reporting by David Grening

The field

Breeders' Cup Classic
Purse: $4 million; 1 1/4 miles; Grade 1

1GhostzapperJ. Castellano1267-2
2FreefourinternetG. Kuntzweiler12650-1
3AzeriP. Day12312-1
4Perfect DriftK. Desormeaux12612-1
5FantasticatG. Melancon12150-1
6Roses in MayJ. Velazquez1266-1
7BirdstoneE. Prado1216-1
8Personal RushF. Dettori12150-1
9Funny CideJ. Santos1268-1
10NewfoundlandE. Coa12615-1
11Bowman's BandC. Velasquez12650-1
12Pleasantly PerfectJ. Bailey1263-1
13DyneverC. Nakatani12610-1

* Odds by Mike Watchmaker
* Television: Saturday, 1-6 p.m. (Eastern), NBC