10/22/2001 12:00AM

Attendance not only measure of success


NEW YORK - Record keepers don't have to wait. They can already affix an asterisk next to this year's World Thoroughbred Championships. This Breeders' Cup Saturday at Belmont Park, just a couple of furlongs from the New York City line, will be unlike any of the 17 that have been conducted before.

There is great anticipation for what promises to take place on the track. But it's tempered with a palpable measure of anxiety, because of the events on and since Sept. 11.

People who do not live and/or work in the New York City area may not fully comprehend this feeling. When they hear some New York racing fans qualify the statement that "It should be a great day out there Saturday" by adding "I just hope nothing happens," it is not paranoia. It is just they way things are now.

The Long Island Rail Road will be adding extra trains out of Pennsylvania Station in midtown Manhattan to Belmont on Saturday morning. Here's hoping those trains will be filled. But there are some New Yorkers who, right now, are hesitant to travel underground via mass transit, or in their cars through tunnels or over bridges.

Officials would be thrilled if 45,000 or more show up at Belmont. But if even far fewer pass through the turnstiles, Breeders' Cup officials should not be disappointed with New York or the New York Racing Association. Before Sept. 11, this Breeders' Cup could have been viewed as a test for NYRA, which did not perform well the last time the Breeders' Cup was held in New York in 1995. Only 37,246 showed up for that Breeders' Cup, by far the fewest in the history of this series. But it is not NYRA's fault, or New York's fault, that people entering Belmont will have their bags searched, or that some will be pulled aside for the random pat down. That is the way things are now.

No matter what happens, New York must remain in the regular rotation of Breeders' Cup sites. With all due respect to the other premier racing circuits, what happens in New York is still the measuring stick of true greatness.

Points system needs revision

I love the Breeders' Cup, but the event does have a couple of flaws. One that is easy to fix is the point system that is employed to designate the first eight starters in oversubscribed fields.

The point system did not have any impact on the fields this year. Every deserving horse has an opportunity to start. But, that isn't the case every year, and an example of the problems of the point system can be found in this year's Sprint.

Xtra Heat tops all horses entered in the Sprint with 34 Breeders' Cup points. She earned those points largely on the strength of victories in the Grade 1 Prioress, the Grade 2 Beaumont, the Grade 3 Cicada, and Grade 3 Endine. All of these races were restricted to 3-year-old fillies except the Endine.

Xtra Heat is a no-brainer for the starting field. There is something wrong with a point system, however, that gives Xtra Heat eight more Breeders' Cup points than Delaware Township, who beat all of the East's best older male sprinters in the Grade 1 Forego and Grade 2 Forest Hills. The system also puts Xtra Heat 26 points ahead of Caller One, who won a $2 million sprint race in Dubai and who was narrowly beaten by sprint champion Kona Gold in a big showdown in the Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar.

The problem with the point system is that all graded races are considered equal. Everyone knows a race like the Vosburgh, which is open to all 3-year-olds and up, is a much tougher Grade 1 race than the PRIORESS, which is restricted to 3-year-old fillies. Yet the Breeders' Cup points system regards them as identical.

The solution is simple: Races restricted to females should be worth a couple of points less than those open to both sexes, and races restricted to 3-year-olds should be worth a couple of points less than those open to 3-year-olds and up. Races restricted to 3-year-old fillies would be subject to both deductions. After all, racing secretaries use the same philosophy with weight, don't they?

The result would more accurately reflect the realities of racing. It would also prevent a horse from accumulating a bunch of Breeders' Cup points in races of dubious quality and gaining an automatic starting spot at the expense of a better horse.