10/22/2001 11:00PM

Brown knows anything can happen


ELMONT, N.Y. - Day after day, year after year, the framed image stared down at Wilson Brown as he warmed himself in front of his sitting room fire. Three horses, charging headlong toward the artist, were tangled in a desperate dance, racing for the world's richest prize in the 1984 running of the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The idea of being part of such a momentous event was pretty farfetched. Even the dreamer in Wilson Brown refused to think it might someday happen to him. After all, former bull riders and Oklahoma cowboys who cut their training teeth at Apache Downs are supposed to be content just winning a big pot at Remington, or maybe, if they are lucky, Lone Star Park.

But now here he was, at Belmont Park, setting up shop in the same barn where Woody Stephens worked his wonders, with a 2-year-old colt sporting a lot of leg and a truckload of a name. Strange things have happened in the Juvenile - even Easy Goer was beaten - but a victory by It'sallinthechase, owned by insurance executive Darwin Olsen, would certainly rank among the all-time shocks in 18 years' worth of Cups.

On Tuesday morning, the day after It'sallinthechase had his first work over the Belmont surface, Brown and his black Stetson appeared from around the corner of the shed row, leading his tall bay colt. He handed It'sallinthechase to assistant Freddie Villafranco and stuck out a strong paw in greeting.

"I hope you're here to tell me Officer is staying in California," Brown said, grinning from beneath a neatly trimmed moustache.

No such luck, Brown was told. It looked like he'd have to play the cards as dealt. On paper, It'sallinthechase goes into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as the longest kind of shot, with just a maiden win in seven starts to his name. To his credit, Brown has no delusions, but he does know 2-year-olds.

"I sent two kids through college training 2-year-olds," Brown said. "And you know my theory? Three- and 4-year-olds, they've established their worth. But nobody in the world knows what a 2-year-old is worth."

Brown will find out a lot more Saturday when his colt takes on the deepest field in the history of the Juvenile. It'sallinthechase comes off a fast-closing second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity, which is not too shabby. Unfortunately, the accomplishment tends to wilt in the hot light cast by race favorites Officer, Came Home, Siphonic, and Johannesburg.

Their presence in the paddock will make it a far cry from the Oklahoma stockyard where Brown fell in love with horses once and for all, a long time ago.

"Sam Brown was my father, and he was a hard-working man," Brown said. "We moved where the work took us. I went to 13 schools, and I was reading everything I could about horses. I was just crazy for them.

"One time we were working for a man who had 50 head, from little Shetlands to big old work horses. I thought I was in heaven. I'd get up early every morning just to go out and lean over the stockyard rail, smelling the horses, the manure. I loved it."

No matter what happens Saturday, the 58-year-old Brown will have a whole new supply of memories, starting with the weather that descended upon Oklahoma City last Saturday that nearly left It'sallinthechase stranded on the tarmac.

"We hardly ever get fog in Oklahoma City, but that morning I swear you couldn't see five feet," Brown said. "They circled the plane, then they finally had to divert to Dallas to take on fuel."

The cargo, originating in California, was precious. Tiznow, Swept Overboard, and Caller One were among the passengers. Brown was worried they would head straight for New York and leave his colt behind. Then the fog lifted to a visibility of about five miles, and the transport plane reappeared.

Brown arrived in Newark on his passenger flight about the same time It'sallinthechase and his pals touched down in Farmingdale, not far from Belmont Park. Brown must have looked like a fellow from someplace else, because he got the full taxi tour through downtown Manhattan on the way to Long Island. It made him think briefly, and darkly, of home.

"The morning those guys blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, I felt the ground shake in my shedrow, 10 miles away," he said. "I haven't been able to go down there since. It's just too awful."

Normally, Brown would be at home with friends and family on Saturday, in front of the big screen, playing host to his annual Breeders' Cup party. The idea of being a part of the show, at long last, is almost too much for Brown to believe. It'sallinthechase, grazing nearby on the same grass nibbled by five Belmont winners, brought him temporarily back to reality.

"I know he can run, and I know he can get the distance," Brown said. "I know we're kind of reaching for the clouds, but I also know that anything - and I mean anything - can happen in a 2-year-old race."