10/31/2001 12:00AM

Breeders' Cup: Racing's melting pot


ELMONT, N.Y. - The World Thoroughbred Championships - the Breeders' Cup - was a great show, as it has been with remarkable consistency since its introduction by John Gaines in 1984.

Each running seems to be just a little bit better than the last, and the thundering parade of talent throughout the afternoon is compelling, as Gaines had predicted. Some industry leaders objected to the concept of giving away millions of dollars in purses at one time. They proposed staging the program over several days, consecutively or over several weekends.

There were other points of view on other aspects, but fortunately for racing the original proposal was adopted. All segments of the industry worked together to make it the unique success it has been. Many of the problems facing us today cry out for the same cooperative spirit, including a uniform approach to medication.

Of the eight championship events that make up the Breeders' Cup program, the one that seems most entertaining and significant is the Classic. While the occasional longshot has won, it usually requires a good horse to bring it off, and Tiznow certainly fills the bill. His performance in last year's Classic to hold off the late charge of Giant's Causeway was heroic and he appeared even more focused last weekend in staving off a determined and talented Sakhee.

Tiznow appears to have a mind of his own. His willful antics during training hours in the weeks preceding the Classic tested the composure of trainer Jay Robbins, who at one point considered adding a shot of vodka to Tiznow's diet.

For the final week, however, Robbins decided to let Tiznow supervise his own training. With reduced stress, Tiznow was sharp all week and raced brilliantly to win the Classic.

Happily, his people have opted to keep Tiznow in training for another season. He is only 4 and it is worth recalling that John Henry earned the last of his Horse of the Year awards at age 9.

The consideration of adding vodka to Tiznow's diet, incidentally, recalls another era, in the 1920's and 1930's, when many horses received a dollop of whiskey as a relaxant before a race. On one occasion, in Chicago, during a fall meeting, the favorite in a race ran poorly, and the next morning the trainer was called before the stewards to explain the change in form.

"I usually give this horse a shot of brandy before he runs," the trainer said, "but it was so cold in the paddock yesterday that I drank it myself."

The success of Europe-based Fantastic Light in the Turf, Johannesburg in the Juvenile, and Banks Hill in the Filly and Mare Turf has caused concern in some circles over what is seen as a falling off of quality in American horses.

Many of the best horses to race in Europe over the last 25 years were bred in this country and purchased here. Johannesburg, for example, was bred in Kentucky and brought $200,000 at auction.

The Thoroughbred, in fact, has become a citizen of the world, thanks to the improvement and availability of transportation, and the plethora of rich races everywhere. Sakhee, second in the Classic to Tiznow, picked up $800,000 in purse money, which made his trans-Atlantic trip a success. A number of American- based horses will soon leave for Tokyo to run in the Japan Cup, while others will be headed for Hong Kong and the rich international racing in that city in mid-December.

Another aspect of European success in the Breeders' Cup races involves the site. Belmont Park, America's biggest racetrack, offers conditions more closely resembling those in Europe than any other U.S. site. Most U.S. tracks, eight and nine furlongs in circumference, tend to be tight from an overseas perspective.