05/01/2003 12:00AM

Rouvres heads Woodford battle


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With Anticipation is an 8-year-old, coming off a successful 2002 season in which he was a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding turf male.

Rouvres is 4, a two-time stakes winner in France last year who has run well in his first two starts in this country.

The two are the leading contenders in Saturday's $400,000 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic at Churchill Downs, a 1 1/8-mile race that could set the tone for the male turf division as the major stakes of the spring draw closer.

Rouvres, the likely favorite, and With Anticipation, who has not started since finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Turf, face seven others, five of whom are stakes winners.

Rouvres, trained by Christophe Clement, finished second in the Explosive Bid Handicap at Fair Grounds on March 23. The loss ended a four-race winning streak that began in France in April 2002 and included the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat last June.

With Anticipation has been training at Gulfstream Park in recent weeks, and has impressed his trainer, Jonathan Sheppard. Last year, With Anticipation finished second in the Woodford Reserve, losing by 1 1/4 lengths to Beat Hollow. He later won three consecutive Grade 1 stakes.

There are a few outsiders who can challenge the top contenders. Requete won the restricted San Marino Handicap at Santa Anita in February before finishing sixth in the Explosive Bid. Patrol and Perfect Drift won allowance races on turf in their first starts of the year. Both were stakes winners last year, and Perfect Drift was third in the Kentucky Derby.

Patrol will be making his stakes debut against older horses, but trainer Bill Mott is confident the 4-year-old is ready.

"I feel we've got a good reason to be in there," Mott said. "The tough horse is Clement's horse."

Century City arrives from Santa Anita, where he won the Arcadia Handicap in an upset on April 5. A 4-year-old, Century City could give trainer Beau Greely his second winner in the Woodford Reserve; he won in 2000 with Manndar.

Century City won his second stakes of the year in the Arcadia, and was brought to Churchill early to prepare for Saturday's race.

"I thought it would be better to get a few works in," Greely said. "He seems to be coming around. The Arcadia was a good race for him."

One unknown factor is how With Anticipation will run after a six-month break. In the last two years, he has lost his first start of the season, but improved as the season continued.

Said Mott, "You'd just as soon take him on now."