Classic-bound Zenyatta tops pre-entries


ARCADIA, Calif. - Led by the unbeaten Zenyatta and two of this year's Triple Crown race winners, a total of 166 horses were announced on Wednesday as pre-entries in the 14 races that will make up the 26th Breeders' Cup on Nov. 6-7 at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting.

Zenyatta was pre-entered in the $5 million Classic along with Summer Bird, who has won three straight important stakes - including the Belmont - and Mine That Bird, the upset winner of this year's Kentucky Derby. The Classic field also includes European standout Rip Van Winkle. If Zenyatta runs in the Classic, as expected, it will be her first start against males after 13 wins in races restricted to females.

Zenyatta also was cross-entered in the Ladies' Classic, which she won last year, but the Classic is listed as her first preference. Summer Bird was cross-entered in the Turf, but the Classic is also listed as his first choice. He has never raced on turf or a synthetic surface.

Pre-entries were due on Monday, and officially announced by the Breeders' Cup on Wednesday. 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.

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.

This will be the second straight year that the Breeders' Cup will be held at Santa Anita. It is the first time in the history of the Breeders' Cup, which was first run in 1984, that the event is being held at the same site in consecutive years.

The success of European-based horses last year on both turf and the synthetic Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita 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.

If, however, 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 time 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 more likely to run in in the Classic, 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.