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Clouds change Belmont outlook Could mud leave favorite Cigar skittish in Classic?


ELMONT, N.Y. -- Human and equine championships are on the line today in the Breeders' Cup.

However, a wet track may muddy the results.

New York weather forecasters are predicting 1 to 2 inches of rain to fall on Belmont Park by the 11:55 a.m. post for the first Breeders' Cup race, the Juvenile Fillies.

Already, one entry, Ocean View, has been scratched from the 2-year-old female lineup, narrowing the field to eight starters. The filly was scratched because of sore shins, but other horses may be withdrawn during the day because of weather-related conditions.

The track crew sealed the dirt surface after last night's final race and training on the main track is forbidden this morning.

Cigar, unbeaten in nine starts this year, including seven Grade I stakes, probably could finish last in the Breeders' Cup Classic and still be named Horse of the Year.

Bill Mott, trainer of the 5-year-old Maryland-bred, has expressed some concern about Cigar's handling of a wet surface. The horse has never raced on a sloppy track and he showed a dislike foran offtrack in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont three weeks ago, although he still won.

"I think he'll run on it," Mott said. "It's not his best and he didn't handle the track the other day particularly well, but he did win by a length. I'm not saying he can't handle it. He just doesn't like it much."

That is not the strongest of endorsements for a 3-5 morning line favorite, and the fans, at least those in Breeders' Cup advance wagering lines at New York off-track betting parlors yesterday, picked up on it.

With $5,400 bet on the Classic, Cigar is the surprising early fourth choice behind the lone European runner, Halling; the Jockey Club Gold Cup runner-up, Unaccounted For, and California-based Soul of the Matter.

Still, by today's 3:10 p.m. Classic post time, Cigar is expected to be the choice.

In the 11 years of the Breeders' Cup, 65 percent of all winners have earned Eclipse Awards, emblematic of a postseason national championship.

At least one Breeders' Cup no-show, the recently retired Thunder Gulch, already has wrapped up the 3-year-old colt championship, and Serena's Song can lose today's Distaff and still take the sophomore filly award.

Many of the other titles are up for grabs, especially if favorites such as Golden Attraction in the Juvenile Fillies; Not Surprising in the Sprint; and Honour And Glory in the Juvenile Colts are upset.

D. Wayne Lukas has spent much of the week sparring with Daily Racing Form columnist Ed Fontaine, who mentioned in a story that recently sidelined Maria's Mon, winner of the Futurity and Champagne Stakes over Lukas-trained Honour And Glory and Hennessy, respectively, could be named the 2-year-old colt champion.

Lukas argues that Maria's Mon has never won outside New York, but Dick Schosberg, trainer of the horse, calls Lukas' argument "ludicrous."

Schosberg added: "I didn't realize that the Eclipse was based on frequent flyer miles."

But such verbal volleys may prove superfluous. Suppose Laurel Futurity winner Appealing Skier wins today's Juvenile Colts and remains undefeated in four 2-year-old starts? Eclipse voters then will have to look pretty hard at his credentials.

In other divisions, pulling out a Breeders' Cup victory also may mean year-end championship status. If Maryland-bred Awad can win the $2 million Turf against a strong field of Europeans, he's in line for an Eclipse. The same could be said for California-based Northern Spur.

In the trainer and jockey standings, a Classic score with Cigar for Mott might overshadow Lukas' spring accomplishment of winning his fifth consecutive Triple Crown event. If Cigar wins, that means Mott will have trained an undefeated Horse of the Year candidate and one who eclipsed Sunday Silence's all-time record of more than $4 million in earnings for one season.

Even though Corey Nakatani has bounced back to the top of the earnings standings among the nation's jockeys, he rides four long shots today and could see his lead dwindle.

A big day by Jerry Bailey, who rides Cigar as well as five other starters; or Gary Stevens, the jockey on Lukas' Juvenile Colts and Filly favorites, as well as Serena's Song in the Distaff, could push Nakatani to third.

Breeders' Cup

When: Today

Where: Belmont Park, Elmont, N.Y.

Card: Seven races worth a total of $10 million.

Feature: $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, headed by Cigar, the Maryland-bred 5-year-old who is unbeaten in nine 1995 races.

Other races: Juvenile Fillies; Sprint; Distaff; Mile; Juvenile Colts; Turf.

Post time: 11:55 a.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4; 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

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