Bernardini, Lava Man top Classic field

Wednesday, October 25th 2006, 9:54 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bernardini and Lava Man will duel for Horse of the Year honors in the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic, while trainer Todd Pletcher has a chance to make one of the biggest scores in racing with a record 18 horses set to run at the Breeders' Cup World Championships.

A total of 121 horses were pre-entered Wednesday for eight Breeders' Cup races worth $20 million at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on Nov. 4.

As usual, the 1 1/4-mile Classic is the main attraction. The smooth-striding Bernardini has cruised to six straight victories, including the Preakness, the Travers and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and will be the favorite.

There are plenty of legitimate challengers, from West Coast whiz Lava Man (7-for-7 this year _ all in California) to South American sensation Invasor (8-of-9 lifetime) to Europe's dynamic duo of Group 1 winners David Junior and George Washington.

A surprise pre-entry was Discreet Cat, the unbeaten 3-year-old owned by Sheik Mohammed's Godolphin Racing. Discreet Cat handed Invasor his only loss, in the UAE Derby, and is coming off a 10 1/4-length romp in the Jerome Breeders' Cup Handicap.

Five starters from last year were pre-entered: Flower Alley, Perfect Drift, Super Frolic and Suave, the second-through-fifth place finishers, respectively _ and trainer Nick Zito's Sun King. Also in the field is Giacomo, who returns to the scene of his 2005 Kentucky Derby win at odds of 50-1.

Bernardini, owned by Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stable, rose to prominence after his win in the Preakness, a race that will always be remembered for Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's breakdown at the start. Besides Barbaro, Belmont Stakes winner Jazil also is out of the Classic.

Pletcher, meanwhile, has horses just about everywhere and should have a few favorites. The only race missing a Pletcher pre-entry is the Mile.

Pletcher's lineup includes three horses each in five races. Among them are possible favorites Scat Daddy and Circular Quay in the Juvenile; Fleet Indian in the Distaff; Wait a While in the Filly & Mare Turf; and English Channel in the Turf.

For the Classic, he hopes to send out 2005 Travers winner Flower Alley and Arkansas Derby winner Lawyer Ron, recently put under Pletcher's care.

D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher's former boss, has the record with 14 starters in a Breeders' Cup _ in 1987 and again in '88. Pletcher recently broke one of Lukas' records with his 93rd stakes win of the year.

Fields are limited to 14 starters, with all but the Filly & Mare Turf and the Turf drawing at least that many. The Juvenile Fillies had the most pre-entries with 24. The fields will be completed at next Wednesday's post position draw.

The Juvenile usually determines the early favorite for the 2007 Kentucky Derby. While Pletcher has two of the best, there are several other budding stars.

Great Hunter could be one of them off his win in the Lane's End Breeder's Futurity at Keeneland. The colt is trained by Doug O'Neill, who also handles Lava Man. A trio of Derby-driven trainers have 2-year-olds pre-entered: Bob Baffert with Malt Magic, Zito with C P West and Lukas with Pegasus Wind.

Scat Daddy, winner of the Champagne, and Circular Quay, winner of the Hopeful, both are 3-for-4.

In 22 runnings of the Juvenile, however, the winner has never gone on to capture the Derby.

The Juveniles Fillies is wide open with a field that includes stakes winners Bel Air Beauty, Cash Included and Dreaming of Anna.

In the Distaff, Pletcher's Fleet Indian is 6-for-6 this year. The 5-year-old mare all but wrapped up divisional honors with her win in the Beldame. Among her challengers will be Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup winner Healthy Addiction, Gazelle winner Pine Island and Balletto.

Henny Hughes, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin (who also handles Invasor), is unbeaten in three starts this year and likely will be the favorite in the six-furlong Sprint. Bordonaro, winner of the Ancient Title Breeders' Cup, Baffert's Too Much Bling and Pomeroy also were pre-entered.

The turf races are usually dominated by Europeans.

A field of 12 was pre-entered for the 1 1/2-mile Turf. Facing off against English Channel are three horses bred in Ireland _ Man o'War winner Cacique, Hurricane Run (the 2005 European Horse of the Year) and Scorpion.

In the Filly & Mare Turf, Ouija Board returns for an attempt to duplicate her 2004 win. This year, the 5-year-old mare has beaten the boys in Europe, taking the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood. Pletcher's Wait a While, though, has won four in a row on grass.

In the Mile, Aragaon (bred in Ireland) has dominated the division on the West Coast with four straight wins for trainer Neil Drysdale. Top challengers include 4-year-old filly Gorella and Librettist, owned by Godolphin.