GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Add Bobby Frankel to the list of skeptics who doubt Azeri belongs in the $4-million BC Classic. The only way she could beat the boys, Frankel said, is if "the gates don't open for the rest of the horses."
Frankel joined others in questioning why trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner Michael Paulson entered the champion mare in the Classic rather than the Distaff, where Azeri would have been a likely winner.
"She's got no chance," Frankel said Thursday outside his barn at Lone Star Park. "She won't be a factor. She won't hit the board."
Frankel offered a spirited defense of his filly Sightseek , who beat Azeri in the Ogden Phipps Handicap at Belmont in June before Azeri turned the tables in the Go For Wand Handicap at Saratoga in August. Sightseek isn't running in any of the eight Breeders' Cup races Saturday.
"If my filly gets beat once, it's against her," the Hall of Fame trainer said. "Azeri has gotten beat a few times. She's not better than Sightseek. But Azeri is the darling of America, she and Funny Cide ."
Paulson defended his decision to pit Azeri against 12 males in the Classic.
"She's already beaten all the fillies and mares," he said, referring to Azeri's 2002 Breeders' Cup Distaff victory. "In any sport, you always try to scale the next mountain. All those naysayers out there who say she doesn't have a chance don't know my mare."
Azeri has won 17 of 23 career starts, and more than $3.9-million. She has won three of seven races this year.
"They can take all the shots at me they want, but they can't really take a shot at her record," Paulson said.
Frankel conceded that if Azeri finishes in the top three, she deserves to be Horse of the Year.
"Most trainers don't like to stick their necks out," he said. "If I look like a fool after the race, I look like a fool."
BAFFERT BRAGGING: Bob Baffert finally arrived at Lone Star Park and immediately began talking up the only horse he has in the Breeders' Cup, his latest 2-year-old whiz kid, Roman Ruler .
"I'm really excited about him," the trainer said outside his barn as the big bay colt stood nearby, pricking his ears every few minutes as if he were listening. "He's intelligent. He can relax. And he's got a good kick. I feel pretty good about him."
So do the oddsmakers: Roman Ruler is the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the $1.5-million Juvenile.
While the Classic usually determines Horse of the Year, the Juvenile delivers the favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby. However, there's a Juvenile Jinx that goes along with winning.
In the first 20 Breeders' Cups, no Juvenile winner has gone on to capture the Kentucky Derby. In fact, only 1994 Juvenile winner Timber Country has won a Triple Crown race, the Preakness in 1995.
"The jinx has nothing to do with it this year," Baffert said. "There's a lot of quality and I think that's why there's a shorter field. The jinx? You mean the Bambino Curse? I think the Boston Red Sox just threw that out."
Roman Ruler, the son of 2000 Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, has been the heavy favorite in all four of his races, losing only once, by a neck to Declan's Moon in the Del Mar Futurity.
BAILEY IS BEST: Jerry Bailey took the International Jockey Championship at Lone Star Park by winning two of the three races.
The event, which kicked off Breeders' Cup week, featured nine leading riders from the United States and Europe.
Bailey and Kieren Fallon , who rode the other race winner, finished tied in the points system. The tiebreaker was the best finish in the final race and Bailey brought home Promise of War first in that one. Besides the two winners, Bailey had a fifth-place finish. Fallon also had two seconds.