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Skill and luck go into winning Breeders' Cup picks

Believe it or not, over the previous 24 Breeders' Cups, the Happy Handicapper has actually cashed a big ticket or three.

Mostly, his luck has come from playing horses trained by Hall of Famers, 2-year-olds with lots of furlongs under their girths, post-time overlays (odds much higher than expected), supplemental entries (whose connections paid extra fees to enter) and, oh yes, a little blind luck.

Until now, his Breeders' Cup winnings have been pleasant, enough to maybe pay a hotel bill or buy a nice meal. But this year he's looking at a monster payoff. Or so he hopes.

Today's races will be on ESPN 2 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday's program will be split between Channel 7 (1 to 3:30) and ESPN (3:30 to 7).

There's a contest on the Internet (see ntra.com) that challenges horseplayers to pick the winner of each of the 14 Breeders' Cup events run today (five races for females) and Saturday (nine for males) at Santa Anita Park.

The contest winner (based on a hypothetical $2 win-place bet on each) gets a free berth (plus airfare and hotel) in the $1 million Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas on Jan. 23-24.

It's as easy as that. All he (or you, if you sign up quickly) needs is 14 winners out of the 153 horses that have been entered for purses totaling $25.5 million.

Here's the H.H.'s entry blank. Feel free to play along, or play against. Las Vegas in January is a very nice place to be.

>Today

Tizzy's Tune (No. 13, Filly & Mare Sprint, 3:35 p.m., 30-1): 5-year-old daughter of back-to-back (2000-01) Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow closes like a downhill freight train.

Consequence (No. 7, Juvenile Fillies Turf, 4:15 p.m., 8-1): Beaten favorite in the longer Miss Grillo Stakes over yielding turf at Belmont should appreciate the firmer grass and shorter distance of this event.

Persistently (No. 2, Juvenile Fillies, 4:55 p.m., 15-1): Like Consequence, this Phipps Stable homebred was a fast-closing beaten favorite at Belmont last time out. Daily Racing Form chart-caller said she had to alter course twice while closing from ninth to second.

Forever Together (No. 3, Filly & Mare Turf, 5:35 p.m., 6-1): Since trainer Jonathan Sheppard has shifted her to the turf, she has posted three wins and two thirds for owner George Strawbridge, a former minority owner of the Buffalo Sabres.

Ginger Punch (No. 6, Ladies Classic, 6:15 p.m., 9-2): There are four millionaires in today's feature race but only one winner of more than $3 million.

>Saturday

*Cedar Mountain (No. 8, Marathon, 1:10 p.m., 6-1): Here's another long-distance specialist for Strawbridge, but trained by Neil Drysdale. . . . This summer at Hollywood Park he won at 1 1/2 and 1 3/4 miles on the turf. Now he'll try to conquer the 12 furlongs over Santa Anita's famed "Pro-Ride" artificial surface, which still looks a lot like real dirt.

*One Union (No. 12, Turf Sprint, 1:50 p.m., 15-1): Last time the Breeders' Cup was at Santa Anita, trainer Richard Mandella won four races. . . . Maybe he's lying in the bushes with this long shot. . . . This race is run at "about" 6 1/2 furlongs on Santa Anita's unique downhill course. Mandella said he was happy with the outer post position because "you always want to be on the outside coming down the hill."

*Pyro (No. 6, Dirt Mile, 2:30 p.m., 20-1): Hard-charging 3-year-old was originally slated for the Classic, but will find an easier bunch here. . . . Remember his last-to-first victory in the Risen Star back when he was on the Kentucky Derby trail? . . . Trainer Steve Asmussen said his post position was "ideal for him." . . . Being in the middle, he should be able to establish his position with no trouble."

*War Monger (No. 9, Mile, 3:15 p.m., 12-1): He doesn't stack up on paper, but his sire, War Chant, won this race like a monster in 2000.

*Midshipman (No. 11, Juvenile, 3:55 p.m., 5-1): Since finishing second in Santa Anita's Norfolk Stakes on Sept. 28, trainer Bob Baffert has put three excellent works over today's track into this quick colt. He's also switched jockeys from Tyler Baze to Garrett Gomez, North America's top money-winner this year.

*Vaquero (No. 6, Juvenile Turf, 4:35 p.m., 20-1): Trainer Michael Leahy (two wins in 17 starts this year) is not exactly a household word, but this son of Orientate, the 2002 Sprint winner, attracted jockey Kent Desormeaux after an impressive turf debut under the little-known B.J. Hernandez Jr. at Keeneland on Oct. 5.

*First Defence (No. 5, Sprint, 5:15 p.m., 12-1): Super winner of the Forego at Saratoga didn't like the slop in his next start at Belmont. They don't have slop in California and he has an interesting good-race, bad-race pattern with a good race on tap next.

*Dancing Forever (No. 6, Turf, 6 p.m., 10-1): Scored two impressive wins Keeneland and Belmont in the spring, then finished out of the money in 1 1/2 -mile turf races in August and September. But trainer Shug McGaughey warns that he should not be ignored. "If he goes off at 15-1, I will definitely make a bet on him," McGaughey told the Thoroughbred Daily News.

*Colonel John (No. 11, Classic, 6:45 p.m., 20-1): Loved him in the Kentucky Derby (sixth), missed him in the Travers (first). On his home field, he's going to be trouble for Curlin.

e-mail: rsummers@buffnews.com

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