11/07/2001 12:00AM

The answers were blowing in the wind


PHILADELPHIA - The Breeders' Cup, our final examination on what we learned during the racing year, is as fascinating afterward as it is perplexing beforehand. The debate this year is a little different. Many of the lessons are the same.

Without getting into the dead-rail debate (the evidence of it was rather overwhelming), I never remember a big race day so affected by the wind. Dirt or turf, front-runners had little chance. Cover, a harness and European term, was critical.

Front-runners in the eight races finished ninth, eased, ninth, second (the amazing Xtra Heat), 11th, fifth, third, and 12th. Admittedly, two of the early speed types - Sheastonecoldfox and Orientate - had no chance. But England's Legend and Officer were solid favorites. And With Anticipation was a strong second choice. None was close at the finish.

England's Legend and With Anticipation were in grass races, where the wind was a major factor. Any horse who had to run the entire backstretch into the wind, without cover, was at a severe disadvantage.

I think speed dominated the Sprint because the run to the turn was so short and the best horses were the speed horses. There was no duel because Xtra Heat was so fast that she cleared the field. Thus, the speed stayed and the closers got too far back to have an impact.

Favorites were nearly as bad as front-runners. Turf winner Fantastic Light was the only favorite to hit the board. Many cards at many tracks could be examined without seeing anything like that. The favorites finished seventh, fourth, seventh, seventh, 11th, fifth, first, and eighth.

So why did it happen on the biggest day of the year? There are no easy answers. In some cases, there are no answers at all.

Flute may have been inhibited by a rail trip, but there is no way she should have run that badly. You apparently was sick. Noverre was never a factor for some unexplained reason. There is no answer for the ultra-consistent Kona Gold's performance. The wind had to hurt England's Legend. Ditto Officer (Tell me Officer did not really run last Saturday in the Cal Cup). Fantastic Light was just too good. Aptitude was terrible without apparent excuse.

If there were bad performances, there were also performances that were off the charts. Anybody who watched Xtra Heat all year could not have been surprised that she nearly led all the way. She is the exception to all rules. Don't be surprised if like Safely Kept, she comes back to win the Sprint next year.

Given the conditions, I thought Tiznow was the most impressive winner on the card. On current form, Tiznow had little chance in the Classic. Beyers of 110 and 106 just were not going to get it done.

The lesson of Tiznow was the same as the lesson of Sunday Silence in the 1989 Classic. Sunday Silence had sorry figures that fall and Charlie Whittingham just kept smiling. He always knew something that we never did.

The great trainers know it's about the big race. Sunday Silence came with the giant Beyer of 124 (still the best in the Classic) to beat arch-rival Easy Goer and win all that year's awards.

Tiznow's trainer Jay Robbins did his best Whittingham impersonation. He never lost faith in his horse. Tiznow's three best Beyers were 116, 117, and 119. The horse could do the fig.

If a horse can do the figure that wins and is being pointed for a specific goal, that horse always deserves respect. On the right day, Tiznow got a 117.

Tiznow did it with no cover and ran the entire backstretch gauntlet. He was prompting the pace the whole way. He was in between horses and back into third just before the eighth pole. Yet, he came back to beat Arc winner Sakhee by a nose.

It was a spectacular Beyer performance. It was a wonderful visual performance. And if Point Given had not won the Preakness, Belmont, Haskell, and Travers in succession, it probably would be a Horse of the Year performance.