10/11/2006 12:00AM

Shirocco the clear European headliner


As the dust has begun to settle in the aftermath of the major prep races for the $3 million Breeders' Cup Turf, and with Shirocco apparently the only proven European commodity being pointed to the race, at least a rough pecking order of favorites seems to have taken shape.

Along with Shirocco, who despite his last-place in the Oct. 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe still will command major respect off his win in the 2005 BC Turf at Belmont Park, there are three major contenders from North America - English Channel, The Tin Man, and Cacique. After that foursome, it's anyone's guess which horses might be capable of being good enough to crash the top tier.

English Channel completed his preparation for the Turf in sensational fashion Saturday by winning the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont. The 4 1/2-length romp puts a finishing touch on what has been a highly productive campaign leading up to the Turf, as English Channel has had 6 well-spaced races that have resulted in 4 victories and 2 fourth-place finishes. The Joe Hirsch was his third Grade 1 victory of the season, following the Woodford Reserve at Churchill and the United Nations at Monmouth.

Trainer Todd Pletcher said earlier this week that the Joe Hirsch "didn't appear to be the kind of race that would take a lot out of you. I would think he could potentially move forward next time."

Michael McCarthy, the Churchill Downs-based assistant to Pletcher, said he has been told that tentative plans call for English Channel, along with most of the stable's Breeders' Cup hopefuls, to train at Belmont until they are flown to Louisville on Nov. 1.

The two other American favorites, The Tin Man and Cacique, also have had their final preps. The Tin Man will enter off three straight wins, ending with the Sept. 30 Clement Hirsch at Santa Anita, while Cacique will enter off a victory in the Sept. 9 Man o' War at Belmont.

As for the European contingent, the chances of several of their top prospects venturing overseas for the Turf grew dimmer this week when Hurricane Run, Pride, and Sir Percy all were entered in the Champion Stakes, which will be run Saturday at Newmarket in England. None are expected to wheel back in three weeks for the Turf, said Alastair Donald of the International Racing Bureau in Newmarket.

Donald added that Dylan Thomas, off his failed dirt experiment in the Jockey Club Gold Cup last weekend, can be counted as a potential BC Turf starter for Aidan O'Brien. Two other European colts, both trained by Brian Meehan, are being mentioned for the Turf: David Junior, a 4-year-old who is unraced since July 8 and actually is more likely to run in the Classic, and Red Rocks, a 3-year-old owned by J. Paul Reddam. Red Rocks has been second or third in all four of his attempts in group company overseas.

Otherwise, Europe just does not have much for the Turf this year.

"To be truthful, we are not over-endowed with top 1 1/2-mile turf horses this year," said Donald.