10/19/2004 11:00PM

This year it's quality instead of quantity

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The field for this year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile may not be very big, but trainer Bob Baffert thinks it's very good.

"I think it's one of the toughest Breeders' Cup Juveniles we've seen in a long time," said Baffert, who trains probable favorite Roman Ruler, one of just eight 2-year-olds pre-entered for the $1.5 million Juvenile to be run Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park.

Baffert believes Roman Ruler, unbeaten Champagne winner Proud Accolade, Lane's End Breeders' Futurity winner Consolidator, and Hopeful winner Afleet Alex make for a very deep field. Completing the list of pre-entrants are Sun King, third in the Champagne, the maiden Twice Unbridled, and European shippers Scandinavia and Wilko.

The eight pre-entrants are the fewest in the 21-year history of the Juvenile. In 1997, there were nine pre-entrants and only eight runners.

Scandinavia, trained by Aidan O'Brien, remains no more than a possible starter, according to The Racing Post.

It is unclear why there were so few pre-entrants. This is the first crop of 2-year-olds affected by mare reproductive loss syndrome, which reduced the size of the foal crop.

Last year, several stakes-winning 2-year-olds were kept out of the Juvenile because their connections felt that running in the race would hinder their horses' chances of being prepared properly for a run at the Kentucky Derby. No Juvenile winner has come back to win the following spring's Derby.

"I know you want me to say it's the jinx, but I'm not going to do that," said D.G. Van Clief, president of the Breeders' Cup, when asked his opinion on the small Juvenile field. "I just think it's the year and the crop."

Boston Glory, the runner-up to Roman Ruler in the Norfolk, was not pre-entered because of an injury discovered last week, trainer Eoin Harty said.

Daily Racing Form national handicapper Mike Watchmaker installed Roman Ruler as the 2-1 morning-line favorite for the Juvenile, followed by Proud Accolade (5-2) and Afleet Alex (7-2).

Roman Ruler has won 3 of 4 starts, including the Grade 2 Norfolk at 1 1/16 miles in his last start. That win came after he suffered a neck defeat to Declan's Moon in the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity. Baffert said the Norfolk was the perfect prep for the Juvenile.

"I liked his race because he didn't have to lay his body down," Baffert said. "He had a hard race the race before, so really he's been battle-tested. That's important when you go a mile and a sixteenth."

Baffert was planning to work Roman Ruler Wednesday at Santa Anita, but rain forced him to cancel the breeze. Baffert said he may work Roman Ruler over the weekend. Roman Ruler ships to Texas next Wednesday.

European trainer Jeremy Noseda confirmed on his website that Frankie Dettori will ride Wilko. Wilko will breeze in England on Saturday before shipping to Texas on Monday.

Other jockey assignments for the Juvenile are: Roman Ruler (Corey Nakatani), Afleet Alex (Jeremy Rose), Proud Accolade (John Velazquez), Consolidator (Rafael Bejarano), Sun King (Edgar Prado), and Twice Unbridled (Victor Espinoza). It is uncertain who would ride Scandinavia if he comes.

Juvenile (Grade 1) 1 1/16 miles Purse: $1,500,000

HORSETRAINERCOMMENTODDS
Sun KingN. ZitoMore effective from off the pace; taken to upset6-1
Proud AccoladeT. PletcherNice win in Champagne, this is first try at 2 turns5-2
Roman RulerB. BaffertCan't be rank, unfocused, like he was in Norfolk2-1
Afleet AlexT. RitcheyRan a winning race in Champagne; big threat7-2
ConsolidatorD. W. LukasWant to see him run back to his big win at Kee6-1
ScandinaviaA. O'BrienYet to be worse than second; bred for dirt on top12-1
WilkoJ. NosedaHad trouble in recent third behind Scandinavia20-1
Twice UnbridledD. JensenModest maiden is hopelessly in over his head100-1

- Odds and commentary by Mike Watchmaker.