10/02/2005 11:00PM

Pletcher counting on Cup foursome

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Ashado could surpass Azeri as the all-time female money earner by finishing first or second in the BC Distaff.

ELMONT, N.Y - He may have been victorious with only one of his four Grade 1 runners here on Saturday, but trainer Todd Pletcher said he believes he came out of the weekend with four starters for the 22nd Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, to be run here on Oct. 29.

With her victory in the , Ashado will likely be a strong favorite to become a repeat winner of the $2 million Breeders' Cup Distaff. If she were to finish first or second in the Distaff, Ashado, who has earned $3,711,440, would eclipse Azeri ($4,079,820) as the leading female money earner of all time. If she wins, she would also be the first mare to repeat in the Distaff since Bayakoa (1989-90).

In bouncing back from her worst race, in the Personal Ensign Handicap, Ashado held off a game Happy Ticket to win the Beldame by a half-length. Pletcher said he believes Ashado was not at her peak for the Beldame.

"I think there's room for improvement off that race for us,'' Pletcher said. "I think we were coming back to our very best. I don't think she was as good [Saturday] as she was going into the Ogden Phipps. We got four weeks, and if she continues to move forward I think there's room for improvement.''

The biggest disappointment of Pletcher's weekend was Flower Alley, who finished fourth to Borrego as the favorite in the $1 million . Pletcher said Flower Alley was too rank in the Gold Cup, and he is toying with the idea of removing the blinkers or cutting them back from Flower Alley's equipment for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic.

"He has won races without blinkers before; it's certainly an option to take them off,'' Pletcher said.

Pletcher said he felt Flower Alley didn't relax because of the configuration of Belmont Park, where 1 1/4-mile races start in the middle of the clubhouse turn. At most tracks, a 1 1/4-mile race is run around two turns.

"When you don't have that turn to run into, you stay on the bridle a little more,'' Pletcher said in theorizing why Flower Alley was rank. "It's essentially a one-turn race.''

Pletcher said English Channel earned a shot in the Breeders' Cup Turf by finishing a close second to Shakespeare in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.

"He did everything except put his head down on the wire at the right time,'' Pletcher said. "I was very pleased with the way he relaxed the first part. I was concerned it was a paceless race; he might be a little bit stronger on the bridle and he actually rated extremely kindly. He showed me a mile and a half is not an issue.''

Pletcher said that Lion Tamer, who finished third in the Vosburgh, "ran well enough to deserve a shot in the Sprint.''

Pletcher will try to add to his Breeders' Cup roster this weekend when he sends out Adieu in the Grade 1 Frizette for 2-year-old fillies at Belmont and High Cotton in the Grade 1 Lane's End Breeders Futurity for 2-year-old colts at Keeneland.

Greely: 'I like my spot'

Borrego came out of his victory in Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup, "like a champion,'' trainer Beau Greely said. Borrego is likely to be among the top three betting choices for the BC Classic along with Saint Liam and Rock Hard Ten.

"I have a lot of respect for those other horses,'' Greely said. "Richard Mandella does a great job with Rock Hard Ten and Saint Liam was huge in the Woodward. That said, I like my spot right now. It's going to be a lot of fun.''

Borrego, Suave, Sun King, and Flower Alley are all likely to run back in the Classic.

Mandella hopes speed shows up

Trainer Gary Mandella said his biggest fear in running winner Taste of Paradise against undefeated Lost in the Fog in the Breeders' Cup Sprint is the potential for a short field without anyone to press Lost in the Fog.

Lost in the Fog, who is 10 for 10, is a speedy colt who could very well be the shortest-priced favorite on the Breeders' Cup card.

"I would be afraid of that situation with Lost in the Fog just because other guys will sit on their horses because they're going to kind of ride for second and third,'' Mandella said. "My biggest concern is that there won't be anybody to soften him up and they will just run one-two-three-four all the way around the track and it will be like watching a mile-and-a-quarter race.''

Taste of Paradise was scheduled to return to Hollywood Park on Tuesday where he will train up to the Breeders' Cup. Mandella has concerns about the horse's feet and wants to be able to monitor them in person.

Pomeroy still on target for Sprint

Despite his eighth-place finish in the Vosburgh, Pomeroy remains on course for a start in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, trainer Patrick Biancone said.

Vosburgh broke slowly and was shut off early and then again in the stretch while finishing eighth, eight lengths behind Taste of Paradise.

"He came out good, no change of plans,'' Biancone said. "He was a little unlucky and unfortunate. Better to be unlucky in the prep race than the big day. What is the big deal? We cannot be lucky every weekend, you know.''

Shakespeare: America's best hope

With Shakespeare's game performance winning the , he may be North America's best hope to win the Breeders' Cup Turf. Shakespeare, who is 5 for 5, overcame a slow pace and closed strongly while outfinishing English Channel by a head.

"Who's better in America?" trainer Bill Mott wondered.

The Europeans figure to send over their top turf horses, but Mott said that Ace, who finished third in the Joe Hirsch, has been running competitively against several of the top Europeans.

"If you look at his form, the good ones over there have been beating him a length or so,'' Mott said. "He's the only barometer we've got.''

Meanwhile, Mott has no real excuse for Sweet Symphony's fourth-place finish in the Beldame. He called her dull and said it "may have been a Lasix issue.'' Sweet Symphony won the Alabama when on Lasix for the first time.

Mott did not discount running Sweet Symphony back in the BC Distaff.

Riskaverse, 'Wonder' together again

The connections of Riskaverse and Wonder Again kept their mares in training this year primarily because both have shown affinity for the Belmont Park turf course. That was evident yet again Saturday when Riskaverse beat Wonder Again by a head in the .

Riskaverse and Wonder Again will make the final start of their respective careers in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf here on Oct. 29. Riskaverse is 5 for 13 at Belmont while Wonder Again is 4 for 11.

The Breeders' Cup will mark the 13th time Wonder Again and Riskaverse will meet. Fittingly, each has finished ahead of the other on six occasions.

Riskaverse, who won the Flower Bowl for the second consecutive year, was sent off at 35-1 based in part on her eighth-place finish in the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup Handicap. But it was her first start since suffering a wrenched ankle in the New York Handicap in July.

"I told everybody that asked that we weren't really ready to go,'' trainer Pat Kelly said, regarding the Ballston Spa. "We had a problem this summer. We never had a problem in any of her other years. We were playing catch-up all year. We wanted to see if we could make it to something this fall before she retired.''

Riskaverse will be sold at the Fasig-Tipton sale in November following the Breeders' Cup.

This will mark the fourth straight year that Riskaverse will run in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She finished seventh in 2002, sixth in 2003, and eighth in 2004.