11/04/2010 11:58AM

Surviving to pick six's last leg is the hard part

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Barbara D. Livingston
Blame has a meaningful homecourt advantage in the Classic.

No one hit the pick six on Friday's Breeders' Cup card, leading to an $817,000 carryover for Saturday's sequence starting with the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint -- and ending with Zenyatta's attempt at making history in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

NEW YORK – The Breeders’ Cup returns to Churchill Downs with what could well be the most meaningful renewals of its key Saturday events since the races were last held there in 2006. After a sloppy track at Monmouth in 2007, and then two years over a since-discarded synthetic surface at Santa Anita that left the nation’s top dirt horses spinning their wheels, the main-track races return to fast dirt for a compelling run of true championship events – including a classic of a Classic where the wildly popular Zenyatta will try to remain undefeated in the toughest assignment of her career.

The eight Cup races fall into two categories. Half of them – the Juvenile Turf, Sprint, Turf Sprint and Dirt Mile – are highly entertaining and competitive betting races but events with no champions and few championship implications. The other four are filled with past and future Eclipse Award champions, and each has a formidable favorite: Uncle Mo in the Juvenile, Goldikova in the Mile, Workforce in the Turf, and Zenyatta in the Classic.

The Cup races begin with the Juvenile Turf, where the solid but unspectacular European imports Master of Hounds, Utley, and Mantoba are only a combined 4 for 11 but still are presumed to hold a class edge over the locals. I will side with Master of Hounds and Utley and give the American colt Soldat a chance to carry his speed a good ways over a firm course.

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Next comes the Sprint, where Big Drama, Girolamo, and Smiling Tiger are legitimate favorites in a year where the division’s breakout star, Majesticperfection, was retired in August with an injury. I like the chalks in that order and will try to get Warrior’s Reward into the frame at 12-1.

The Turf Sprint begins the pick six, and congratulations in advance to those who survive it without hitting the “all” button. The key may be the race’s new distance – five furlongs, as opposed to the 6 1/2-furlong downhill run at Santa Anita in the inaugural two runnings. I have a slight preference for the veterans Chamberlain Bridge and Silver Timber, but wouldn’t be surprised by half a dozen others.

The Juvenile, likely to crown both a divisional champion and a future-book favorite for the 2011 Derby, has a remarkable seven Grade 1 winners in a field of 10: The winners of the five such American races run so far (Boys At Toscanova, J B’s Thunder, J P’s Gusto, Jaycito, and Uncle Mo) as well as the undefeated winners of Group 1 events in Italy (Biondetti) and Peru (Murjan.) I can’t get past Uncle Mo, who followed up a dazzling debut on the Travers undercard with an impressive stretch-out to a mile winning a fast Champagne in his second start.

Goldikova will try to become the first three-time Cup winner when she goes for her third straight Mile, and there’s no reason to think she can’t do it despite facing a strong field that includes seven other Grade or Group 1 winners, including Gio Ponti, Paco Boy, Proviso, Court Vision, and Sidney’s Candy.

The Dirt Mile lacks a world-class miler but has some nice solid runners, including the two I will focus on in Crown of Thorns and Here Comes Ben. Gayego and Mine That Bird are the race’s only millionaires but are 0 for 5 and 0 for 8 in their most recent graded-stakes attempts.

BREEDERS' CUP ENTRIES: Full fields with charts and video replays

Workforce, the runaway winner of the Epsom Derby and a narrow winner of a trouble-filled Arc de Triomphe, seeks to complete an unprecedented turf triple of those two races and the Breeders’ Cup Turf. He would be an even heavier favorite if the Churchill Downs course had caught some rain this week; instead, his connections are fretting about possibly hard turf and may even scratch him. Either way, the race appears likely to dominated as usual by Europeans, with Behkabad, Dangerous Midge, and Debussy appearing next best and well ahead of a moderate American contingent.

And then the Classic. My plan is to get alive in pick-whatevers to the four favorites and let the chips fall as they may among Blame, Quality Road, Zenyatta, and Lookin At Lucky. I picked the race in that order, not out of any disrespect for Zenyatta and her historic 19-0 record but because Blame has a meaningful homecourt advantage and Quality Road, though questionable at the distance, has a combination of speed and brilliance that makes him a threat to dominate any race.

Blame or Quality Road will be the nation’s champion older horse this year and Lookin At Lucky is the likely 3-year-old titleist. They are probably the three best dirt horses Zenyatta has ever had to mow down in the stretch, and watching her try to do it will be should be one of the most memorable two minutes of this and many other racing seasons.