10/18/2001 11:00PM

All eyes on Officer


ELMONT, N.Y. - From 50 starters in the 17-year history of the Breeders' Cup, California breeders have produced only one winner: Tiznow in the 2000 Classic.

At least, they are on a winning streak.

Next Saturday, when the eight Breeders' Cup races are run at Belmont Park, three California-breds are expected to start. Queenie Belle will be a longshot in the $2 million Distaff, Officer will be favored in the $1 million Juvenile, and Tiznow will attempt to become the first repeat winner of the $4 million Classic.

Without a doubt, California's best chance is Officer, who has thoroughly dominated his competition in major preps in California and New York in the last three months.

A Bertrando colt, Officer was bred by Marty and Pam Wygod and sold at the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association's Del Mar Yearling Sale to Sequel Bloodstock. He was resold for $700,000 to Ahmed Salman's The Thoroughbred Corp. at the Barretts March 2-year-olds in training sale.

Under the direction of Bob Baffert, Officer has risen to the top of the juvenile ranks with recent victories in the Del Mar Futurity and Champagne Stakes. He is unbeaten in five starts, and is considered a source of pride by his breeder.

"I think the Cal-breds are getting tougher in general," Marty Wygod said. "At least with Officer he's substantially better than the others. He's in another space."

Bertrando finished second to Arazi in the 1991 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, the best finish by a Cal-bred in the Juvenile. Bertrando is now California's top sire, and will stand at Wygod's River Edge Farm at least through 2002, Wygod said. Farm owners in Kentucky have inquired about his availability in recent weeks, Wygod said.

"There's a substantial amount of interest," he said. "For this breeding season, we'll stand him at River Edge Farm. It's something that you always have to evaluate.

"The Bertrandos are doing absolutely great. It doesn't matter which kind of mare you breed to him. He moves them up."

Wygod will be cheering for Officer - he has Officer's yearling full brother in training at San Luis Rey Downs - but is not able to fully support Queenie Belle, who is also by Bertrando. In the Distaff, Wygod has a starter - Tranquility Lake, a stakes winner at Del Mar.

Queenie Belle justified a trip to Belmont Park with a victory in the Grade 2 Lady's Secret Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita on Sept. 29.

Owned by Gary Seidler, Queenie Belle was purchased for $130,000 at the 1999 Barretts March 2-year-olds in training sale. She has won three stakes and earned $578,520.

The trip to New York is a gamble. Queenie Belle would have been a heavy favorite in the California Cup Matron at Santa Anita on Nov. 3, a race she won last year.

Tiznow has been pointed for the Breeders' Cup Classic throughout the year, a season interrupted by a back injury in the summer. Third in the Woodward Stakes and Goodwood Handicap in the last two months, he figures to be near 9-1, the price at which he won the 2000 Breeders' Cup Classic.

A victory by Tiznow in Saturday's Breeders' Cup Classic would mark several milestones.

Tiznow would become the first repeat winner of the nation's biggest race, the first reigning Horse of the Year to win the Classic and would make him the richest California-bred in history. By Cee's Tizzy, the 4-year-old Tiznow has won 7 of his 14 starts.

With earnings of $4,347,830 in his career, Tiznow trails Best Pal by $1,320,415. A victory in the Classic would be worth $2,080,000 for his owners, Cees Stable.