Curtain-raiser Distaff promises drama; Three fillies can answer questions on durability, desire in Cup's opener; Notes


HALLANDALE, Fla. -- In the Breeders' Cup Distaff, the race that kicks off today's eight-race series of Breeders' Cup races, three fillies lay their reputations on the line.

The 3-year-old Silverbulletday, who has won 14 of 17 races, lost her last start, the Beldame Oct. 10 at Belmont Park, to the 4-year-old Beautiful Pleasure. In her race before that, the Gazelle Handicap Sept. 11, also at Belmont, Silverbulletday won, but not with her usual authority.

Meanwhile, Beautiful Pleasure won her last two starts convincingly -- the Beldame over Silverbulletday and the Personal Ensign Handicap at Saratoga over Banshee Breeze. But both of those victories took place on sloppy tracks.

Finally, Banshee Breeze, last year's 3-year-old, Eclipse Award-winning female, has lost her last two races after winning four in a row. So what gives?

Talk to Carl Nafzger, trainer of Banshee Breeze, and he says she's had excuses for her two losses -- a rough trip in one, giving 11 pounds to Beautiful Pleasure in the slop in the other. Also, Banshee Breeze is 4-for-4 at Gulfstream Park.

"I haven't had a doubt about Banshee Breeze all year," Nafzger said. "She's fired every time. You've got to leave something in the tank for the big one. This is the big one. She's ready."

Talk to the low-key John Ward, trainer of Beautiful Pleasure, and he just smiles and says: "Let them think she's won only because of the slop."

And Bob Baffert, trainer of Silverbulletday, says about the same thing: Let them think she's tailing off. Baffert predicted a victory, but guaranteed at least a second-place finish.

'Quarter-horse race'

Of the Sprint, which usually produces astronomical payoffs, Nafzger said: "The Sprint really is very simple. It's the biggest crapshoot of the series. It's a quarter-horse race except they go around turns. Whoever wins is going to need a lot of luck."

Nafzger saddles Vicar in the Sprint. He ran his two best races at Gulfstream, winning the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby this spring.

Nose for winning

Watch for several Breeders' Cup horses to be wearing nasal strips, including possibly Behrens, favorite in the Classic. They're legal in Florida. Like the strips human athletes wear, they open the nasal passages for greater oxygen intake.

In three of yesterday's 10 races at Gulfstream, the winners wore them.

Lengthening odds

Michael Dickinson, trainer of Supreme Sound in the Classic, said his veteran runner needed two crucial things for a chance at a top-three finish: a post position on the rail, preferably the 1, and a lone early lead.

Well, Supreme Sound drew the 14, the extreme outside. And Old Trieste, the speedster, has so far remained in the race. She will surely be the early leader. Dickinson was hoping Old Trieste might drop out because of persistent foot problems.

"None of that happened," Dickinson said. "Supreme Sound is the best he's ever been since I've had him. He will run his biggest-ever race. Unfortunately, it will probably be to no avail."

Tending to firm

The turf course at Gulfstream yesterday was rated "good." Despite fears earlier in the week that it would be soggy from recent rains, it will probably be firm, or nearly firm, today -- if the weather forecast holds. The forecast calls for a breezy, dry day with temperatures near 80 degrees.

Prado will be busy

Edgar Prado will ride in five of the eight Breeders' Cup races (Tap to Music in the Distaff, Asher in the Juvenile Fillies, Successful Appeal in the Sprint, Chief Seattle in the Juvenile and Catienus in the Classic). He said his best chance at victory is with Chief Seattle.

Prado still leads the nation in victories, but Russell Baze, the Northern California jockey, had inched to within five. Then Baze suffered back injuries in a spill last weekend at Bay Meadows. He'll be out the rest of the year, practically ensuring that Prado will lead the nation in victories for the third year in a row.

"You don't want to win a title in any sport that way," Prado said. "I wish him a speedy recovery."

Prado said he will continue riding in New York until Thanksgiving, then spend the winter riding in South Florida. He said a return to Maryland, at the moment anyway, isn't in the cards.

Scoring with long shot

Prado rode one winner yesterday at Gulfstream, the long-shot Extended Applause in the $100,000 Love's Exchange Stakes. She paid $50.80 to win.

Extended Applause surged from far back to overtake the Maryland-bred Hookedonthefeelin, who led the six-furlong sprint into the homestretch.

Seeking her fourth victory in four tries, Hookedonthefeelin faded to fourth.

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