Breeders' Cup picks

Friday's Races

INDIAN BLESSING, though a 3-year-old, is the fastest horse in the field and considerably faster than many of her primary opponents. She has never lost when running at distances of seven furlongs or shorter and, in recent starts, has learned to settle off the pace, which will help her in a race loaded with speed. The main threat is ZAFTIG, who beat her handily in the Acorn. The Jimmy Jerkens-trained filly is also very talented, but she has not raced since June and it's hard to believe that she can be at her very best. Also, she beat Indian Blessing at a mile, a distance that was in her favor. INTANGAROO has yet to turn in a big speed figure, but she's a consistent filly who has won two Grade 1s this year and may benefit from a fast pace.

LARAGH has a lot going for her. She's got the best speed figure in the field, drew well and looks like the only speed in the race. The only knock is that she may be a bounce candidate off a huge effort last out at Keeneland and is coming back on only 15 days rest. She will clearly prefer a firm turf course, which she figures to get. CONSEQUENCE, like so many Shug McGaughey-trained horses, figures to get better as her career progresses. She was only fourth in the Miss Grillo, but will definitely improve off that effort for a trainer who has a phenomenal Breeders' Cup record. BEYOND OUR REACH looks best of the European fillies in here, but is a maiden, drew poorly and didn't run her best last out. Still, she was third in a Group 1 race in Europe, meaning she has the class to compete here.

SKY DIVA is lightly raced and will be trying two turns for the first time, but she was nothing short of sensational in her two career starts. Against a good field, she absolutely dominated in the Frizette, winning under wraps. This could be a good one. PERSISTENTLY was no match for Sky Diva in the Frizette, but was clearly second best. She'll improve off that effort and should like the added distance and the extra turn. STARDOM BOUND is a deserving favorite and has every chance to win. But she didn't draw well and has yet to run any big numbers. She's beatable.

A very deep race with several horses who can win. FOREVER TOGETHER has a big chance and figures to be a price. She has really come around of late for trainer Jonathan Sheppard and put together big performances in the Diana and First Lady. She needs a fast pace up front to succeed, but should get one here. HALFWAY TO HEAVEN looks best among the European contenders. A two-time Group 1 winner who has won at the distance, she has class and ability and gets a break in the weights because she is a 3-year-old. WAIT A WHILE is another whom you can't knock. She's classy and consistent and loves this course. This race may come down to who gets the best trip.

ZENYATTA's win in the Lady's Secret was the most impressive race I've seen by a filly in a long time. I tried to beat her that day and learned a lesson. Take the short price and enjoy what promises to be another big performance from a special filly. COCOA BEACH proved she belongs with the big girls when beating Ginger Punch in the Beldame. HYSTERICALADY was no match for Zenyatta in the Lady's Secret even though she had things her own way on the lead. She might have bounced a bit in that race after posting some big numbers in her prior two starts. She never runs a bad race and figures to be part of the mix in the stretch.

Saturday's Races

SIXTIES ICON has never raced on anything but turf, which makes him a big unknown in a synthetic surface race, but should he handle the track, he should defeat this field. The inaugural Marathon did not draw a strong group of U.S. horses, so it makes a lot of sense to go for a European horse who is consistent and classy. He's won three straight and loves this distance. BIG BOOSTER showed little when a distance third last out at 3-5 in the Cougar Handicap, but he's a better horse than that. He's a Grade 2 winner who has been running against some of the toughest horses in California. The last time ZAPPA tried 1 1/2 miles he romped by 6 1/4 in the Cougar Handicap. He was left alone on the lead that time and might stumble into the same kind of easy trip here.

I'll go with the Europeans here, who figure to have a class edge. FLEETING SPIRIT could do no better than fifth in the Prix de l'Abbaye, but that race traditionally draws the best sprinters in Europe. Prior to that, she was a close third in a Group 1 and won a Group 2. Much prefers firm ground, which she will get here. DIABOLICAL seems to like dirt/synthetic better than turf, but has thrown in a few decent turf races in Europe. He gets back on Lasix and is coming off his best performance in more than a year when second in a Group 2 in England. TRUE TO TRADITION is in the best form of his career and is coming off two fast performances in turf sprints. One of several American horses that has a chance if the Euros falter.

WELL ARMED has been facing much, much better while knocking heads with horses like Curlin and Go Between. He's simply much classier than anyone else in this field and should boss around suspect competition. LEWIS MICHAEL looks like he's back in top form after winning the Pat O'Brien at Del Mar. He drew well and will be competing at what is his best distance. ALBERTUS MAXIMUS held his own when third against Well Armed in the Goodwood. Has been a new horse since moving into the Vladimir Cerin barn.

GOLDIKOVA is coming off a terrific effort, winning the prestigious Prix du Moulin at Longchamp. She has won three straight, including two Group 1s and, prior to that, was beaten by the great Zarkova, who went on to win the Arc de Triomphe. A 3-year-old filly facing older males, she gets a huge break in the weights and will carry seven pounds less than the main competition. What happened to KIP DEVILLE in the Woodbine Mile? He was a killer before throwing in a clunker up in Canada. Trying to win this race for a second straight year, he's the top American threat, if he's right. SHAKIS is a consistent type who is usually right there. He would prefer 1 1/8 miles but will be running late and very well could hit the board.

MUNNINGS ran into a monster last time in Vineyard Haven, who is sitting this one out. Despite losing by 5 3/4 lengths, he turned in a big speed figure and can improve off that effort. He's also one of the few horses in the race with early speed and figures to get a good trip. SQUARE EDDIE has looked like a new horse since being shifted to synthetic surfaces. He looked very good winning the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland and is also a horse who figures to be close to a moderate pace. TERRAIN was second best behind Square Eddie at Keeneland but had to overcome some traffic problems. He also had a poor trip in his prior start. He'll be running on late.

WESTPHALIA comes from the barn of the shrewd Aidan O'Brien and has had a productive year in Europe. Throw out the race in Ireland where he apparently hated a heavy turf course and he has never run worse than first or second. Has the class to beat these and will likely love the fact that he's finally getting back on a firm course after facing a series of bogs. CORONET OF A BARON may be the most talented American horse in the field, but he's a big unknown because he has never tried the turf. He doesn't have much of a turf pedigree, but trainer Eoin Harty knows what he is doing and must believe this horse will handle the grass. GRAND ADVENTURE is coming off a sizzling performance in the Summer Stakes at Woodbine, but drew terribly.

You can totally throw out MIDNIGHT LUTE'S last race. He had a horrendous trip. Because he's run only once this year and likely got little out of the race, it's anyone's guess as to whether he's going to be ready for this, but he was the best sprinter in the country last year and might even go off at a bit of a price because of his last race. STREET BOSS saw a five-race winning streak snapped last out but there's no reason to believe that he can't bounce right back. In a race where there's a ton of speed, both he and Midnight Lute should get favorable trips. FABULOUS STRIKE is another who hasn't run a lot this year but is a very fast horse when right. Was pressed hard on the lead in the Vosburgh, which is why he couldn't hold off Black Seventeen.

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE has been knocking heads with the very best in Europe throughout the year and is a Group 1 winner. The American contingent in this race isn't that strong, which means the nod should go to a European. EAGLE MOUNTAIN is another who has had success overseas and he's in the hands of one of the world's best trainers, South African Michael de Kock. It looks like de Kock has been pointing for this race all year and should have this one turned up for a big effort. OUT OF CONTROL is a consistent sort who has run some of his best races over this course. The worry is that he can't go this far.

CURLIN is the best non-turf horse in the world and has been training like a monster over the synthetic surface. Enough said. FAIRBANKS is a wise-guy pick in here. He doesn't have the quality that some of them have in the Classic, but he is the only speed in the race. Should he go to the front and set a soft pace he could be dangerous. GO BETWEEN is a logical pick, particularly if you like horses that are proven over synthetic surfaces. He's gotten a new lease on life since becoming a synthetic specialist and is sure to run his race. Garrett Gomez picked him over Colonel John and Champs Elysees, which means something.

Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact Bill at wnfinley@aol.com.