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HIT THE DIRT IS TRIED AND TRUE AT THE BREEDERS' CUP

At last year's Breeders' Cup, the Happy Handicapper caught big winners Spain ($113), Caressing ($96) and Tiznow ($20) by following three favorite big race strategies in the Distaff, Juvenile Fillies and Classic races.

Next Saturday at Belmont Park, he's going to follow the same paths and concentrate his major wagers on the five dirt races, where he's had the best luck over 17 years at racing's richest day.

Final entries and post positions won't be decided until Wednesday. But as he steers the betmobile toward Long Island, here are his main contenders.

DISTAFF: Spain became trainer D. Wayne Lukas' record 16th Breeders' Cup winner, and she figures to be double-digits odds in her quest for a repeat. The H.H. plans to bet all the Lukas runners on this year's card. If they lose he'll still be way ahead playing the Hall of Famer in big races. . . . Two Item Limit, a 30-1 shot on the Daily Racing Form's early line, has won six races toting an average of 120 pounds. That's her Cup assignment and she's the only one qualifying under the H.H.'s "average winning weight" approach. . . . Exogenous is the top contender on his "aces" method. She had the highest last-three Beyer Speed Figures (a total of 318) and has averaged a field-high 105 over the 1 1/8 -mile distance. She's won two straight since Hall of Fame trainer Scotty Schulhofer added blinkers.

JUVENILE FILLIES: Sophisticat, Kentucky-bred daughter of supersire Storm Cat, has had limited success over grass in Europe for Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien. Her only win over there came under 126 pounds, seven more than she'll carry as a 12-1 shot in her first North American start.

On a conference call Wednesday, O'Brien called her "a filly with an unbelievable amount of natural ability" and said he plans to remove the blinkers, which he used unsuccessfully in her last race.

"We'll probably leave it (blinkers) off and we think we'll see a real nice run from her. . . . every run she's getting better," O'Brien said.

You, the probable favorite, won the Grade 1 Frizette at this distance at Belmont under 120, one pound more than her Cup assignment. Hall of Fame trainer Bobby Frankel, who sends out six horses in an attempt to break his puzzling 0-for-36 Breeders' Cup record, said, "I was shocked with how well she ran. . . . She just demolished the field. She looks great, she's in real good form, and hopefully she can keep on going."

Shesastonecoldfox, the 4-for-4 filly trained by Tony Ferraro at Finger Lakes, already has won under 121 pounds, one more than everybody carries in this race. She's 15-1 but probably will be higher. She'll get a sentimental bet because, hey, who expects a New York-bred from Finger Lakes to win a Breeders' Cup race?

SPRINT: Yonaguska, the Lukas-trained 3-year-old who was sidelined all summer with an injury, returned to the races Oct. 7 and ran a career-high Beyer figure of 106 while finishing third in a Belmont dash.

As the H.H.'s friend, the Exacta Kid, points out, it might not be difficult for this $1.95 million yearling purchase to improve off that effort. And his come-from-behind style might do the trick in a race that will feature suicidal front-end speed. Only trouble is that he needs two defections to draw in from the also-eligible list.

Mozart, another O'Brien trainee considered to be Europe's best sprinter, won his last race in England under 133 pounds and has been averaging 127 in his five wins over there. Here he'll carry 124. You do the math. For the musically inclined hunch players, don't overlook the grassy Mile, where horses named Crystal Music (owned by composer Andrew Lloyd Weber), Bach and Brahms are entered.

JUVENILE: Bob Baffert's undefeated Officer will be the day's biggest money magnet, but he'll be no value bet at 3-to-5. The E.K. plans to key him in a trifecta box over closers Saarland, Siphonic and Striking Song. . . . Jump Start, Lukas' best 2-year-old so far, ran second to Officer over this course and distance in the Champagne. In a postrace interview, Lukas hinted that things might be different with a bigger field on a bigger day. . . . Johannesburg, O'Brien's 6-for-6 European invader, has never carried less than 123 pounds and has won under an average of 125 2/3 pounds. Even though he is trying dirt and distance for the first time, 122 pounds will seem like a feather. Came Home won Saratoga's Hopeful under 122.

CLASSIC: The $4 million feature race of the day looks made to order for Aptitude, the Frankel-trained probable favorite.

Asked to handicap the field, Frankel said, "I really fear the European horses the most. Because I've run with the American horses and he's beaten them pretty well, you know, in his last two races. . . . The unknown is my only fear."

Frankel said Fantastic Light, which may end up in the $2 million Turf, is "probably the one I fear the most" but there's still a lot of awesome competition.

Galileo, the Irish Derby winner, carries only 122 pounds, which is 2 2/3 pounds below his average winning weight during his 6-for-7 season in Europe. . . . Sakhee, the Arc de Triomphe winner, sports an average winning weight figure of 127. . . . Black Minnaloushe, a 3-year-old from England and winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas, will be the last runner of the day for the powerful O'Brien contingent. . . . And don't forget, Lukas has super long shot Orientate as an also-eligible.
e-mail: rsummers@buffnews.com

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