10/22/2002 12:00AM

BC Countdown - Mile: Worldwide 'Debate' continues


Every Breeders' Cup seems to draw at least one horse whose lifetime past performances take up an entire page.

This year that horse is Nuclear Debate, a battle-scarred Kentucky-bred who has had a well-traveled 45-race career. Among the several foreign countries he has raced in are England, Hong Kong, and Canada.

Now it's on to Chicago for Nuclear Debate, a 7-year-old gelding trained by Darrell Vienna. While he clearly lacks the flash or glamour of some of the horses who will oppose him Saturday in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Arlington, he nevertheless has shown he belongs. He has posted triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures in his last three turf starts while in the midst of perhaps the best form cycle of his career.

Nuclear Debate, sired by Geiger Counter, is a multiple Group 1 winner and former champion overseas, but he has specialized primarily in grass sprints. However, it was a third-place finish in the Atto Mile in his last start that tempted Vienna and owner Bill Herrick to try the Breeders' Cup.

"He was a miler who never got the opportunity," Vienna said. "Now, in the twilight of his career, he gets the chance. He's brand new in terms of legs and disposition."

Trained for most of his career by John Hammond, Nuclear Debate was bought out of the Tattersalls Sale at Newmarket last fall for $265,000. Vienna has had him for eight races and believes Nuclear Debate is coming to his peak.

"The old guy is coming up to this race great," Vienna said. "I wanted to go to Japan and run him in two sprints, but Mr. Herrick said, 'Let's try Canada, and then we could go to the Breeders' Cup.'"

With most of the 14 probables for the Mile having arrived in Chicago by Tuesday evening, Nuclear Debate was one of the last to have a final blowout for the race, going an easy half-mile in 53 seconds over a soft course. The dogs were up on the course.

Nuclear Debate is third on the Mile list of alternates but was a virtual certainty to make the field when entries were drawn Wednesday morning. At least three of the 14 horses in the main body of the field were expected to run in other BC races: Rock of Gibraltar and Hawk Wing in the Classic, and The Tin Man in the Turf. The first two alternates also were expected to run elsewhere, with Volponi likely for the Classic and Zenda for the Filly and Mare Turf.

After Nuclear Debate, Dress to Thrill and Green Fee also were expected to make the race off the alternates list. Even Bill Perry, trainer of North East Bound, was hoping Tuesday that he would be able to ship his stable star from Monmouth Park for the race. North East Bound, a close second in the 2000 Mile at Churchill Downs, is the seventh alternate but could make the race if another horse drops out. Sixth alternate Chopinina was expected to go in the Filly and Mare Turf.