11/02/2001 12:00AM

Cup results gaining clarity


NEW YORK - Breeders' Cup Day always goes by in a blur, overwhelming the senses and sometimes the bankroll with a rapid-fire series of results that always include a healthy dose of the unpredictable. This year, the level of dissonance was even higher than usual, with an extraordinary number of favorites running like 50-1 shots and as many divisional championships left in turmoil as clarified.

The question that ultimately emerges is whether the results were merely unexpected or, as some have claimed, unfair or untrue. Much as this handicapper would like to blame the weather, the track, the jockeys, or other dark cosmic forces for his own sorry set of predictions, a review after a week of hindsight makes things look less chaotic than they initially seemed.

Distaff: Spain got nearly as bad a ride here as she did in the Beldame three weeks earlier, but Unbridled Elaine had plenty of traffic to negotiate and was simply best. Flute, it turns out, was reportedly running a fever. The results were not impossible, but picking a champion 3-year-old and older filly this year may be, with too many candidates for the 3-year-old Eclipse and none for the older filly category.

Juvenile Fillies: You was vulnerable off a tiring if runaway victory against a poor Frizette field, and it was a guessing game as to which if any of her stretching-out or laid-off rivals would fire. You was not compromised by her post or trip and simply came up empty. Tempera ran a sensational race stretching out off a layoff, was a worthy winner, and will be a worthy champion 2-year-old filly.

Mile: Often the most chaotic race on the card, this year it was the most formful. Val Royal ran the fastest prep race and showed the same brilliant acceleration he had at Oak Tree to prove a decisive winner.

Sprint: It happens every day: Races apparently packed with early speed go slower than expected early and no one catches the leaders. The early fractions were not blistering and a potential five-way duel never materialized. Swept Overboard was glued to the rail every step of the way but still managed to pass six horses while running his final quarter in 22.40 seconds to be beaten a length. Kona Gold and El Corredor simply didn't show up and there is nothing to suggest that the pace or the track surface had anything to do with their non-efforts. Squirtle Squirt is almost certain to be named the champion sprinter, and it's hard to argue otherwise.

Filly and Mare Turf: The Flower Bowl must have been a mirage: The first three finishers in that race were the three favorites and all ran just horribly, while Banks Hill crushed the outclassed longshots who ran their races behind her. This division was so spotty this year, it doesn't feel so bad to give Banks Hill an Eclipse Award off one North American start.

Juvenile: Officer may or may not be the goods, but we didn't get to find out as he had a poor start, an impossible trip, and a harebrained ride. Once he was finished at the top of the stretch, anything could and did happen. With all due respect to Johannesburg and the sea of humanity that poured onto the track to celebrate his victory, this race went significantly slower than the Juvenile Fillies and only five lengths separated the first nine finishers, among them some certifiably mediocre horses.

If Officer continues to race and win this year, he could make it a close call for the divisional title. Voters may find it hard to pencil in three champions who raced just once here this year.

Turf: Godolphin handicapped this race perfectly. Fantastic Light is better than he was when he raced here a year ago, and while 1 1/2 miles is still a bit too far for him, the American grass horses were so bad this year that Fantastic Light's only competition came from a fellow European, Milan. Fantastic Light's perfect record abroad this year and definitive Turf victory make him an easy Eclipse Award selection.

Classic: Tiznow's rousing victory won him the older male championship, Sakhee's gallant effort made Godolphin look smart, Albert the Great salvaged some dignity in his final start, and Macho Uno flashed a little promise for next year. Include wasn't helped by riding the rail but wasn't going anywhere. Aptitude's post 12 did not account for his finishing nine lengths behind the winner, who started from post 10.

Horse of the Year is an apples-and-oranges popularity contest likely to tilt toward Point Given rather than Tiznow. That bloodless choice is an almost fitting end to a racing season that had many memorable moments but was so often characterized by disappointment and inconsistency. Whether it was Point Given in the Derby, Monarchos in the Preakness and Belmont, Tiznow in the Woodward and Goodwood, or Flute, You, Officer, and Aptitude on Breeders' Cup Day, this was a year when the biggest stars always seemed slightly out of alignment with the biggest races.