10/15/2008 11:00PM

Pre-entries look solid, but not spectacular

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NEW YORK - A few first thoughts on the pre-entries for the 14 Breeders' Cup races next Friday and Saturday:

w If there had been an over/under bet on the number of horses pre-entered, I would have taken the over up to around 189 - and lost when it came in at 180. Going by first-preference entries, 6 of the 14 races did not attract full fields, including just eight horses in the Ladies' Classic, nine in the Dirt Mile, and 10 in the Sprint.

You can blame Zenyatta for scaring off all but seven distaff challengers, but the Dirt Mile and Sprint are a bit more puzzling, since neither race came up a particularly strong one.

w In terms of star power, Big Brown's sudden retirement obviously was an unexpected blow to the marquee, and you can choose to look at the rest of it through either half-empty or half-full glasses.

On the one hand, this year's Cup is missing the nation's top 2-year-old (Vineyard Haven), 3-year-old (Big Brown), arguably its top 3-year-old filly (Proud Spell), and its second-best older male (Commentator). On the other hand, of the 15 horses who have won two or more Grade 1 stakes in the United States this year, 11 of them were pre-entered for Cup races: three-time Grade 1 winners Curlin, Ginger Punch, Intangaroo, Music Note, and Zenyatta, and two-time Grade 1 winners Colonel John, Forever Together, Grand Couturier, Indian Blessing, Stardom Bound, and Street Boss. The only missing 2008 multiple Grade 1 winners are four-time Grade 1 winner Big Brown and dual Grade 1 winners Einstein, Proud Spell, and Vineyard Haven.

The pre-entrants also include 27 other horses who have won one Grade 1 race this year. So in total, the pre-entry fields include 38 horses who have won 54 U.S. Grade 1's this year while missing the 33 horses who won the other 39.

w Of the 180 pre-entered horses, 127 (70.5 percent) will be sent out by trainers who have two or more pre-entrants. So there are 53 trainers with a single entrant and 41 with two or more - 25 with two, six with three, and 10 trainers with four or more: Aidan O'Brien (10), Bobby Frankel (7), John Sadler (7), Steve Asmussen (6), Doug O'Neill (6), Todd Pletcher (6), Bob Baffert (5), Saaed bin Suroor (4), Shug McGaughey (4), and Bill Mott (4).

The O'Brien/Frankel showdown is an interesting one. O'Brien was being offered at 1-5 by British bookmakers earlier this summer to equal or exceed Frankel's 2003 record of 25 Grade 1 or Group 1 training victories in a calendar year, but he has stalled in the last month at 21. O'Brien and Frankel will go head-to-head in four races, though none of their 17 horses appears a likely post-time favorite.

Frankel, meanwhile, has quietly made a runaway of the American Grade 1 training race, with 11 victories from eight different horses: three by Ginger Punch, two by Vineyard Haven, and one each by Ariege, Double Trouble, First Defence, Mast Track, Precious Kitten, and Ventura. Rick Dutrow is next with six U.S. Grade 1's this year, four of them by Big Brown, followed by Steve Asmussen with four, three of those by Curlin.

Real vs. ridiculous

Nearly six months after the Eight Belles accident after the Kentucky Derby, the racing industry and its sharpest critic both made strong recommendations this week about ensuring the health and safety of Thoroughbreds in the future. They were more than a little different in their credibility.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association on Wednesday announced that it is creating an alliance of tracks that will pledge to uphold a code of conduct including most of the recommendations announced in recent weeks by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee. A certification program overseen by an independent monitor will require tracks to implement safety reforms and uphold medication standards.

A day earlier, the "animal rights" organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which has called for the abolition of horse racing and picketed the Preakness and Belmont, called for Big Brown to be neutered rather than retired to stud. Continuing to cite the loony theory that horses suffer injuries because many are descended from Native Dancer, PETA called on Big Brown's owners to "take a very difficult step" and end his stud career before it begins.

This request has approximately as much chance of being honored as the one that PETA made last month to the manufacturers of Ben and Jerry's dessert products: That they cease exploiting cows and instead make their ice cream from human breast milk.