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Zenyatta preliminary Classic favorite

Benoit Photo

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Oddsmaker Mike Battaglia has set the undefeated Zenyatta as the preliminary favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, representatives of the Breeders' Cup World Championships said Oct. 21. Battaglia picked the top four horses for the $5 million Classic ahead of his final morning line, which will be set on Tuesday, Nov. 2, at the official post position draw.

The veteran handicapper put the undefeated race mare at 3-1, top 4-year-old Blame at 4-1, speedster Quality Road at 5-1, and Lookin at Lucky, the best 3-year-old in the country, at 6-1. He said those odds could change slightly depending on post positions and other entrants into the field for the 1 ΒΌ-mile championship race, but there's no doubt which runner will take the most action at the windows.

"Zenyatta will be the favorite," Battaglia said. "She's amazing -- she does just enough to win every time, and any horse that's won 19 in a row, there's just something special about them."

Zenyatta is seeking her 20th straight victory overall and a repeat of the win she scored over males in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic for owners Jerry and Ann Moss, trainer John Shirreffs, and Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith.

"If you go by the speed figures, you might say 'No,' but Zenyatta transcends the figures," Battaglia said. "The one time she needed to run faster, in last year's Classic against the boys, she ran a 112 and beat them. So it seems like she does what she has to do and I think she'll be the definite favorite."

But the sport's top contenders have not been deterred by the presence of the 6-year-old daughter of Street Cry, who has never raced over Churchill's dirt surface. Zenyatta trained at Churchill in the spring of 2009 prior to the May 1 Louisville Distaff Breeders' Cup Stakes, but withdrew on the day of the race when heavy rain at the Kentucky oval caused the track to become sloppy.

Two of Battaglia's top four horses -- Blame and Lookin at Lucky -- have run in races over the track. Blame won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill this June and the Grade 2 Clark Handicap last November, in addition to an allowance score taken in early July of 2009. Lookin at Lucky ran sixth in this year's Kentucky Derby over a sloppy track, but since then has strung together three straight victories on dirt in various locations; in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the Grade 2 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park.

"I think Blame is a heck of a horse and this is his home track at Churchill Downs; he's won three out of four races here," Battaglia said. "Lookin at Lucky has established himself as the best 3-year-old in the country; he's done everything they've asked, but this is a big step up for him because I don't think the 3-year-olds have been particularly strong this year. And as for Quality Road, this horse is brilliant. The mile and a quarter, I think, is stretching it -- but we've seen great horses that haven't gotten that distance before jump up and do it."

Battaglia said the field for the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic is shaping up into one of the best the sport has seen, especially in recent years.

"It definitely is a stronger Classic field than last year, quite a bit stronger," he remarked. "That's why I say, to jump up and beat these kind of horses, if she does win, Zenyatta has to go down in history as one of the greatest of all time. If she jumps up and beats the boys on a track she's never run on, that would be unbelievable."

Claire Novak is an award-winning journalist whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets, including The Blood-Horse magazine, the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.) and NTRA.com. She lives in Lexington, Ky.