11/02/2006 1:00AM

Velazquez poised for big day


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Due more to injury than anything else, this has not been a typical year for jockey John Velazquez. But the two-time defending Eclipse Award-winning rider has a chance to end the year on a high note with rides in all eight Breeders' Cup races. Edgar Prado is the only other jockey to ride in all eight races.

Velazquez, who won two Breeders' Cup races in 2002 and 2004 and has six wins in the series overall, looks particularly strong in the Sprint with Henny Hughes, the Mile with Araafa, the Turf with English Channel, and the Juvenile with Scat Daddy. He also rides Cotton Blossom (Juvenile Fillies), Honey Ryder (Filly and Mare Turf), Pool Land (Distaff), and Flower Alley (Classic).

"This is why we dream, this is what we work for, to come to these big days - Derby, Triple Crown, Breeders' Cup," Velazquez said. "I'm very pleased I get to participate; not only get to participate, but I ride every race. To win one, that's the gift right there, if you get to win one."

Velazquez surpassed $20 million in earnings the last two years. This year, he has ridden 189 winners from 816 mounts and has earned $13,134,379. He missed six weeks of action when he broke his collarbone in a spill at Keeneland in April. He missed the Kentucky Derby and rode sparingly in the spring. He did not have his usual Saratoga meet, but gained momentum winning five Grade 1 races during Belmont's fall meet.

On a chilly Thursday morning, Velazquez got on his Mile mount, Araafa, for the first time, galloping him around the Churchill Downs turf course. Velazquez said the turf course is "very soft."

"I was a little nervous because he was becoming a little strong, but he galloped well the first quarter and then he came right back and he was very kind," Velazquez said. "Actually he's very professional. He was looking around a lot, so I'm glad they got to gallop him on the grass because he was looking at everything."

In the Sprint, Velazquez rides Henny Hughes, who will most likely have to sit behind speed horses Bordonaro and Attila's Storm early on.

"He doesn't have to be on the lead," he said. "I think those other two horses are going to go, and if I can sit right behind those two horses it'll be perfect."

- David Grening

Denman ready to take reins

The 23rd Breeders' Cup program on Saturday will mark the first time that anyone other than Tom Durkin has called a Breeders' Cup race, either for television or the ontrack crowd. It will also be the first time a network other than NBC will televise the races.

These sweeping changes have given Trevor Denman what he calls "a great challenge." Denman, the South Africa native who has become an iconic figure on the Southern California circuit as the longtime announcer at Santa Anita and Del Mar, will call the eight Breeders' Cup races for ESPN and for an ontrack crowd expected to surpass 70,000.

"I have 35 years in this profession, so there's not that much left to get me too excited," said Denman. "But this certainly has me very excited."

- Marty McGee

McCririck: Watch out for Euros

British racing pundit John McCririck, known as "Mutton Chops" on NBC's Breeders' Cup coverage for the past 15 or so years, isn't lacking an opinion on this year's races. He has been combing the Churchill Downs backstretch and press box this week, never going unnoticed with his unmistakably huge sideburns, expressing his thoughts to those eager to listen.

As he has predicted in past years, he sees a successful Breeders' Cup Day for the Europeans. He called Hurricane Run the class of the Turf, and Classic entrant George Washington "the most exciting horse here."

More exciting than Bernardini? Apparently. He called George Washington, the Queen Elizabeth II winner, "an outstanding horse, a monster of a horse."

That said, he acknowledged that Hurricane Run and George Washington have weaknesses. Hurricane Run is prone to "flat spots," he said, meaning inconsistency in his form. George Washington, meanwhile, has beaten himself mentally at times and faces the challenge of racing on dirt for the first time, McCririck said.

He also called David Junior dangerous in the Classic as a fresh horse. And just like American horseplayers, he views Ouija Board as an obvious contender in the Filly and Mare Turf. He noted that she is an excuse-prone mare, however.

As for some of those racing in the Mile, he expects a good effort from Araafa, who ran second in the Queen Elizabeth II behind George Washington, but questions whether Rob Roy is good enough.

Racing fans wanting to hear more from McCririck will likely get their wish. He said he expects he will be a part of ESPN's television coverage of the Breeders' Cup this year.

- Byron King

Large pools guaranteed

Besides the multitude of gimmick wagers available on every Breeders' Cup race, there are several guaranteed pools being offered Saturday. Those guarantees are the $1 million early pick four, races 3-6; $1.5 million late pick four, races 7-10; and $3 million pick six, races 5-10.

For the first time in several years, the Breeders' Cup is not offering head-to-head wagers.

- Marty McGee