10/25/2001 12:00AM

Big 3 make Juvenile one for books


ELMONT, N.Y. - Imagine what it's like to never have a bad day. Socks always match. Pants are creased. The car keys are right where you put them.

Out in the world, traffic melts away and the lights are always green.

Colleagues approach to bask in your glow. The boss asks if everything is entirely to your taste. No, check that. You are the boss.

Welcome to the rarified air of the 2001 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

This isn't just the best group of 2-year-olds ever assembled for the race. This is a bona fide dress rehearsal for the Triple Crown classics of 2002, the reason that the Juvenile was created in the first place. The field assembled on Saturday is a throwback to the inaugural Juvenile of 1984, when the one-two-three finishers went on to win the Travers, the Preakness, and the Kentucky Derby of 1985.

In that giddy running, Chief's Crown, Tank's Prospect, and Spend a Buck finished in a cluster at the end of the mile at Hollywood Park, separating themselves by more than six lengths from the horse who finished fourth. The same thing should happen this year.

Officer, Came Home, and Siphonic enter the Juvenile in an unbeaten state of grace. So do Johannesburg and Publication, and they deserve homage as well. Among them, they have been given 18 chances to fail. So far, none of them knows the meaning of the word.

It is the first three, however, who have been tested at levels most familiar to those who search for the classic horse, in races like the Champagne, the Hopeful and the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland. Publication won an Arlington-Washington Futurity that did not exactly take the breath away, while Johannesburg, 6 for 6 in England, Ireland, and France, has never been past 1,200 meters (about six furlongs) and never run on dirt. He would need to be another Arazi to handle Officer, Came Home, and Siphonic.

"Unless he's a freak-a-loid, you can't even worry about him," said Bob Baffert, who trains 5 for 5 Officer, when asked if Johannesburg was a concern. "I'll just pretend he's not even in the race."

It is Came Home, at 3 for 3, who preys on Baffert's fertile imagination. Came Home is the reason Officer has been working so fast.

"Everybody forgets about Came Home, what a good son-of-a-gun he is," Baffert said. "That's one thing about it - I have not slacked off on our colt's training, because I know he's going to have to run his ass off to beat that horse."

Such talk is sweet music to the ears of Dave Hofmans, who has brought 2-for-2 Siphonic to Belmont Park. Siphonic's leap from a 6 1/2-furlong maiden win at Del Mar to an 8 1/2-furlong major stakes at Keeneland was the stuff of serious talent.

"I'm just hoping," Hofmans said, "for our sake, that Baffert gets really cocky and tells his jock, 'Don't let anybody open up on you.' Something like that would be very helpful to us." Translation: If Officer and Victor Espinoza become obsessed with Came Home and Chris McCarron, Siphonic and Jerry Bailey will come running.

And what a sight it will be, those three colts ripping through the cold wind promised for Saturday, running the races of their young lives. It is amazing to think that all but one of them will lose. For the people involved, it could be a hard day to swallow.

"Sometimes I think we're guilty of transference," Hofmans said. "We're the ones who feel bad about getting beat, not the horse. You look at the expression on the face of a horse in the winner's circle and it looks the same as the horses he beat.

"And they all get beat," Hofmans added, shaking his head. "If Seattle Slew can get beat, if Secretariat can get beat, then Officer can get beat."

Paco Gonzalez can picture how it might happen. The trainer can see Came Home and Officer separating themselves from the field as they make their way to the top of the Belmont stretch. After that, Gonzalez has nothing to go on but the exciting sense of confidence that Came Home has been imparting since he first began to blossom last summer.

"I hope he can sit behind Officer a length, a half a length, and not let him get away," Gonzalez said. "Before they get to the turn, I bet those two horses will be head and head. Then this horse" - he nodded toward Came Home's stall - "he's got a real kick."

Came Home was sprawled out in the hay, taking his morning snooze, and looking a far cry from the dervish who was so impressive in the Hopeful, when he beat track record holder Mayakovsky by two. Some horses, Gonzalez said, can't stand the sight of another horse in front. They will strain sinew and bone just to get their way.

"He's like his mother," the trainer said, referring to Nice Assay, a daughter of Clever Trick. "The man who raised her said that there were eight fillies in her field, and when they would run, she was always in front."

On Saturday, Came Home should make mama proud.