10/17/2006 11:00PM

Time to start tossing horses


PHILADELPHIA - Playing the Breeders' Cup is often about horses you don't like as much as horses you do like. Two weeks out, I have a few horses on my "don't" list that will be on almost every "do" list. Anybody can put a 50-1 shot on a "don't" list. It takes a bit more heart to put potential favorites on a "don't" list.

I would love to say I don't like Bernardini in the Classic, but that would be absurd. There is trying to beat the favorite and then there is trying too hard to beat the favorite. Having said that, I certainly have not dismissed Lava Man.

Today, I do not like Aragorn in the Mile or Henny Hughes in the Sprint. Those opinions are subject to change by Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs. However, at some point, you have to have an opinion and live with it.

Could Aragorn and Henny Hughes both win? Obviously.

I just think both horses are entering deep water. Aragorn has been beating the same horses all year in California. His four consecutive wins have come against fields of seven, seven, seven, and six.

Silent Name ran third behind Aragorn twice in California. Shipped to Keeneland for the Shadwell Mile, Silent Name finished seventh behind Aussie Rules, Aidan O'Brien's second stringer.

Visually, I did not particularly like Aragorn's last race, when he beat Courtnall by a length. Courtnall is

2-for-14 and eligible for a two-other-than allowance.

The Mile will have a huge field. It will be run on a different type of grass course than the fairways of Southern California. It would seem likely that the horse would have to do something more than run for an eighth of a mile, as he has done in most of his races.

If somebody other than Neil Drysdale trained Aragorn, I would really feel confident in my opinion. Drysdale, like Charlie Whittingham, is one of those people who can plan for a specific goal for months and hit it just right. What goes down before that goal is often irrelevant. You have to see beyond the past performances. Still, I am probably going to try to beat Drysdale.

Henny Hughes has been sensational in his three 2006 starts. But he has beaten fields of five, nine, and four. Each time, the colt has sat second just off the pace and won easily. The Sprint rarely works that way. There is nothing easy in that race, not this year, not ever.

With pure speedballs like Attila's Storm and Bordonaro likely to be in the field, Henny Hughes will face a completely different set of circumstances in the Sprint. Bordonaro just isn't going to give up if a horse runs up next to him.

And some horses will show speed that you simply don't expect. I really thought Lost in the Fog was lone speed in last year's Sprint. Instead, there were three horses just ahead of the Fog after a quarter-mile.

And there is always the Groovy lesson to remember. There is East Coast speed and there is West Coast speed. If it looks at all close on paper, West Coast horses are almost certainly going to be faster. I will never forget the 3-year-old filly Very Subtle and Patrick Valenzuela running Groovy and Angel Cordero right off the track in the 1987 Sprint at Hollywood Park.

It is never too soon to consider strategy for Cup Day. If you leave it all for the last minute, you risk getting so far behind and so confused that race day, already a blur, becomes a sprint where you get off poorly and never make a move.