10/24/2007 11:00PM

Record says go against Pletcher

EmailWASHINGTON - When the nation's four best horses face each other in the Breeders' Cup Classic, most bettors will have trouble mustering a strong conviction about the outcome. The horses have been beating each other, and their races have usually been decided in tight photo finishes.

Curlin's phenomenal rally enabled him to catch Street Sense in the final stride of the Preakness. Curlin also edged the 4-year-old Lawyer Ron by a neck in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Any Given Saturday whipped Curlin soundly in the Haskell Invitational. Street Sense defeated Any Given Saturday twice - once by a nose.

Although the horses are evenly matched, one factor might help clarify Saturday's $5 million showdown at Monmouth Park - namely, the Pletcher Factor. Todd Pletcher operates America's biggest and strongest stable, one that includes two of the four principals in the Classic - Lawyer Ron and Any Given Saturday. Yet Pletcher's record in the Breeders' Cup - 2 wins out of 41 starters, including an 0-for-17 performance last year - is too dismal to dismiss as a statistical fluke. Moreover, since August, the performance of the Pletcher barn has been inexplicably poor, even in the types of races he usually dominates. The trainer's magic has temporarily disappeared.

I am not going to fight the evidence. I will not take a short price on any Pletcher starter in any of Friday's and Saturday's races at Monmouth. Even though Lawyer Ron possesses the best Beyer Speed Figures in the Classic, I'm throwing him out - and Any Given Saturday, too. The battle to decide the 2007 horse of the year comes down to Street Sense vs. Curlin.

Curlin enters the Classic off the best performance of his career, his victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, while Street Sense hasn't won a race impressively since the Kentucky Derby. But trainer Carl Nafzger's plan all year has been to rev up Street Sense for the races that count most - the Derby and the Classic. He did the same thing in 1990 with Unbridled and captured both races. Street Sense should be ready to deliver a peak performance and beat Curlin - narrowly.

The Classic is the final leg of the Breeders' Cup pick six. If I were to play it, I would put only Street Sense and Curlin on my ticket while in the penultimate race, the Turf, I would stand alone with the European invader Dylan Thomas. With four Group 1 wins this year and career earnings of more than $6.5 million, he is arguably the best Thoroughbred in the world. If the moderate-quality European Red Rocks could beat America's best in the Turf last year, Dylan Thomas should crush this field.

With the final two races relatively manageable, many bettors (especially those with large bankrolls) will play the pick six with gusto. But to me, too many of the early races in the sequence appear inscrutable. Almost any one of the 12 entrants could win the Filly and Mare Turf. The Distaff (with three Pletcher fillies among the favorites) is indecipherable. So, too, is the Mile - although I may take a flyer with underrated Trippi's Storm. A good handicapper could use half of the field in any of these races and still omit the winner from a pick-six ticket.

I am going to resist the siren call of the pick six and zero in on other opportunities. I believe I have found at least two good ones. The Breeders' Cup has expanded to a two-day affair this year, with three new events being run Friday, and the Filly and Mare Sprint looks especially intriguing. Three exceptionally fast front-runners are in the field - Dream Rush, La Traviata and Shaggy Mane. La Traviata has overpowered her rivals in all three career starts. Dream Rush has led all the way to win back-to-back Grade 1 stakes. But the raw speed of these fillies will surely compromise one another's chances and benefit somebody who can come off the pace. The beneficiary may be Miss Macy Sue. She has won five of her six starts this season, and she overcame a difficult trip in her last start to win a $400,000 stakes at Presque Isle Downs. Though that's not a major-league track, her speed figure indicates she's as good as Dream Rush or La Traviata. With the ability to sit just behind a hot pace, she'll get an ideal set-up.

In the Juvenile Fillies on Saturday, Indian Blessing is a deserving favorite. She delivered a powerful performance in the Grade 1 Frizette Stakes at Belmont, dueling with a fast rival in a fast pace and then drawing away to bury the field. Trained by Bob Baffert, she will face less pace pressure at Monmouth, and she could easily lead all the way.

The second-best horse in the field may be Grace Anatomy, based on her third-place finish in Keeneland's Alciabiades Stakes. She broke two lengths behind the field, rushed into contention, got parked wide on both turns, and lost by little more than a length. She has raced only on artificial surfaces, and her talent on a dirt track is impossible to gauge. But I will nevertheless play an Indian Blessing-Grace Anatomy exacta that I hope will be the key to a profitable Breeders' Cup.

(c) The Washington Post