10/28/2009 11:00PM

Zenyatta likely to test males in Classic

Benoit & Associates
Zenyatta was cross-entered in the BC Classic and Ladies' Classic, with the Classic listed as her first preference.

In the weeks leading up to the Breeders' Cup, much has been made as to who's not going to be competing, most notably Rachel Alexandra and Sea the Stars. But just look at who is expected to show up. Nine of last year's 14 Breeders' Cup race winners - and a BC race winner from 2006 - were among the pre-entries announced on Wednesday for this year's Breeders' Cup, which will be held Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Topping the list is Zenyatta, who is unbeaten in 13 career starts and is on course to face males for the first time in the $5 million BC Classic on Nov. 7. The Classic field also includes Summer Bird, this year's winner of the Belmont Stakes, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup; Mine That Bird, who won this year's Kentucky Derby; and Rip Van Winkle, one of the elite runners in Europe.

But wait - says the ghost of Billy Mays - there's more. The Classic also includes Gio Ponti, America's top-ranked turf horse; Einstein, who earlier this year won the Santa Anita Handicap; Colonel John, who won the Santa Anita Derby and Travers last year; Florida Derby winner Quality Road; Super Derby winner Regal Ransom; and Richard's Kid, who won the Pacific Classic.

"It's one of the great fields for the Classic, top to bottom," Greg Avioli, the president and chief executive officer of the Breeders' Cup, said during a conference call on Wednesday.

Zenyatta also was cross-entered in the Ladies' Classic, which she won last year, but the Classic is listed as her first preference. Her trainer, John Shirreffs, on Wednesday said he and owners Jerry and Ann Moss are "definitely leaning toward the Classic provided she works well on Saturday and continues to train well the following week."

Shirreffs said Zenyatta was doing great.

"She really worked well last Friday," he said. "She looks good and is acting great."

If Zenyatta runs in the 1 1/4-mile Classic and goes off the favorite, she would be the first female horse to be favored against males in a main-track Breeders' Cup race.

Breeders' Cup officials certainly are hoping Zenyatta runs in the Classic.

"It's a bigger story for the sport if she chooses to run in the Classic," Avioli said. "The Classic is the biggest race, it attracts the most attention, it has the most viewers. If we could choose, I'd probably say the Classic."

Summer Bird was cross-entered in the 1 1/2-mile Turf, but the Classic is also listed as his first choice. He has never raced on turf or a synthetic surface.

His trainer, Tim Ice, said Summer Bird was "99.9 percent" certain to run in the Classic. He described the Turf as "just an afterthought."

"We wanted to look at it," Ice said. "He likes a mile and a half. Either way, he's going to be changing surfaces."

In total, 166 horses were announced as pre-entries on Wednesday in the 14 races that will make up the 26th Breeders' Cup, which will be held at Santa Anita for the fifth time. This will be the first time the Breeders' Cup has been held at the same site in consecutive years.

At this point, horses can be pre-entered in more than one race; of the 166 individual horses pre-entered, 37 were cross-entered in another race, bringing the total number of entries to 203. But next Tuesday, when final entries are due and post positions drawn, a choice must be made as to which race a horse will compete in.

The number of entries is down, but only slightly, from last year, when 171 individual horses were pre-entered. There were 210 overall entries last year when factoring in cross-entered horses.

Zenyatta is one of nine Breeders' Cup race winners from 2008 who are scheduled to compete this year, too. The others are Conduit, Desert Code, Forever Together, Goldikova, Maram, Midshipman, Muhannak, and Ventura. Red Rocks, the winner of the 2006 BC Turf, was also pre-entered, bringing to 10 the number of previous BC winners in this year's Breeders' Cup.

The success of European-based horses last year on both turf and the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita - led by Raven's Run in the Classic - resulted in 37 foreign-campaigned horses being pre-entered this year. There were 31 foreign starters last year.

The 14 Breeders' Cup races are worth a total of $25.5 million. A maximum of 14 horses can run in most of the races. The Juvenile Turf, Juvenile Fillies Turf, and Dirt Mile all have maximum fields of 12.

Those three races, as well as the Classic, Juvenile, and Turf Sprint, all had more than the maximum number of horses pre-entered. In those cases, horses who won designated Win and You're In races got first preference in the field, followed by horses who earned points in graded stakes races. Half the field was reserved for those horses. The remainder of the field was determined by an international panel of racing officials. Horses who at this point are not in the body of the field are ranked in order of preference by the racing officials, and get in when a horse defects from the main body of the race.

For instance, in the Classic, 16 horses were pre-entered. Bullsbay and Richard's Kid got berths based on victories in Win and You're In races. Einstein, Mine That Bird, Quality Road, Summer Bird, and Zenyatta were the highest earners in graded stakes points, so they were next, bringing the total to seven, half the field. The next seven horses - Awesome Gem, Colonel John, Gio Ponti, Mastercraftsman, Regal Ransom, Rip Van Winkle, and Twice Over - were preferred by the racing officials. Currently on the outside looking in are Girolamo and Chocolate Candy, in that order.

Complicating matters is that 10 of the 16 Classic horses were also pre-entered in another race. Bullsbay, Chocolate Candy, and Mastercraftsman all have the Dirt Mile listed as their first preference, so the final Classic field should not have more intended starters than 14.

Graham Motion, the trainer of Bullsbay, and Jerry Hollendorfer, the trainer of Chocolate Candy, on Wednesday both said they were leaning toward the Dirt Mile.

In instances where more than the maximum number of horses for a race are entered on Tuesday, the Breeders' Cup has allowed for up to two also-eligible entries to be taken in each race. Scratch time for both Breeders' Cup race days is 7 a.m. Pacific on Nov. 6.

There was a great sense of haves and have nots in this year's Breeders' Cup. The Turf Sprint (22 pre-entries), Dirt Mile (21), Juvenile (20), Juvenile Turf (20), and Juvenile Fillies Turf (17) all were extremely popular.

But the Ladies' Classic drew just nine pre-entries, including Zenyatta, who is unlikely to run in that race, and Lethal Heat, who is also pre-entered in the Turf Sprint. Lethal Heat's trainer, Barry Abrams, has left open the possibility of running in both races. She was one of the leaders in graded stakes points for the Turf Sprint, so she is in the main body of that race.

The Turf, while luring defending race winner Conduit, also drew just nine runners, including Summer Bird, who is expected to run in the Classic. The quality of the Turf drops alarmingly after the top few contenders.