10/21/2004 11:00PM

Questions to ponder a week out


PHOENIX - Breeders' Cup Day is a week away and already there are some basic yet crucial questions to ask. Such as:

Which race has the most appeal?

No doubt, it's the BC Turf. This may be the best renewal since Manila, Theatrical, Estrapade, Dancing Brave, Dahar, and Darara all knocked heads at Santa Anita way back in 1986. Kitten's Joy, possibly the best American turfer since Manila, looks all-world - and he will need to be if he is to win. Ouija Board, third in the Arc de Triomphe and easily the best turf mare in the world, is on her way to Lone Star Park. Magistretti, beaten by Kitten's Joy in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, will be out for revenge and is capable of getting it based on his huge Grade 1 Man o' War victory. Powerscourt, tons the best in defeat in the Arlington Million, and Group 1-proven in Europe, is shipping over, too. It's going to be a great race.

Which horses most bear watching?

Naturally, big names such as Azeri, Pleasantly Perfect and Kitten's Joy are key, but I'm talking more about horses with something to prove. Speightstown, for example. After dominating in sprints he was clobbered by Pico Central in the Vosburgh. Was it just one of those days? Was Pico Central simply on top of his game? Or is Speightstown heading south at this time? It's odd that Speightstown's trainer, Todd Pletcher, didn't sound gung-ho about the Breeders' Cup before the Vosburgh. Is he worried about something?

Another horse to watch is Roman Ruler in the Juvenile. He's been brilliant for trainer Bob Baffert, but his loss in the Del Mar Futurity (though he ran great), and his unconvincing win in the Norfolk have some asking if he really is the goods. Which replay might Baffert see: Officer, who was powerful all summer in 2001 but soured in the Juvenile? Or Vindication, who ran well before the 2002 Juvenile, then made BC Day his coming-out party.

What big horse has a big problem?

Pleasantly Perfect. He circled the field to win last year's Classic, but he got a few breaks. Congaree and Medaglia d'Oro set solid splits - nothing suicidal - and didn't exactly collapse. But neither Congaree nor Medaglia d'Oro were at their best going 1 1/4 miles, so a mere solid pace left them just tired enough to let a true stayer like Pleasantly Perfect roll by.

A similar scenario is conceivable this year. Certainly Roses in May is fast, and Ghostzapper has tactical speed. But it's possible neither wants to run 1 1/4 miles. It's also possible that one or both will love furlong No. 10. And if that's the case, can Jerry Bailey, Pleasantly Perfect's rider, sit back 10 or 12 lengths while Roses in May is just motoring up front and Ghostzapper is in cruise control in right behind? Pleasantly Perfect is good, but can he give those two a head start and a comfortable pace scenario and still run them down?

Who's got early wagering appeal?

I'm getting ahead of myself as we don't know exactly who's entering where, or who has what draw, but there are four plays I'm examining.

Sun King lost the Champagne at Belmont recently, but I was impressed by him. He ended up on the lead (and didn't want to be there) and inside, but never gave it up, not even when the better-seasoned runners Proud Accolade and Afleet Alex came to him. In some ways, Sun King reminds me of Unbridled's Song just before his victory in the 1995 Juvenile.

Cajun Beat, away since Dubai in March, ran fourth in the Vosburgh, and that effort was better than it looked. Stuck on the rail, he was slow into stride, as Speightstown outran him. Still, Cajun Beat's natural speed carried him up into a duel and he stayed there all the way, losing third place by a head. It was a super way to come back and we've seen this before. When a horse has proven he's fast enough to win this race (and Cajun Beat proved that by winning the Sprint last year), and has had a start back off a layoff, you can make a case he'll regain his previous top form, and, likely, at overlaid odds. We saw it with Tiznow at 7-1 in the BC Classic two years ago, and we saw it with Pleasantly Perfect at 14-1 in the Classic last year. We may see that pattern again with Cajun Beat in the Sprint.

Another one to watch, Yesterday, was a fine third in the BC Filly and Mare Turf a year ago. Her form has progressed nicely this season and she may be sitting on a break-out race. It also doesn't hurt that her main foes Ouija Board (the BC Turf is her first preference), Crimson Palace (retired), and Musical Chimes (reportedly skipping the BC) are not in the race.

Finally, everything looks right for Special Ring in the BC Mile. Trainer Julio Canani (who won this race with Silic in 1999 and Val Royal in 2001) has handled Special Ring with one thing in mind all year - get him to the BC Mile breathing fire. Last year's BC Mile winner, Six Perfections, is back to defend the title, but might not be as good as she was last year. And the other Euros, while certainly capable, don't look overwhelming. Can we get 6-1 on Special Ring?