10/29/2001 12:00AM

Destination? Louisville!


ELMONT, N.Y. - Ten years ago, a European-based colt named Arazi rocketed past the best 2-year-olds North America could muster to become a Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, a champion, and a heavy winter book favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

In May 1992, Arazi finished eighth as the 4-5 favorite in the Kentucky Derby, the fourth of what has now become 10 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winners who failed to win America's most famous horse race.

Last Saturday at Belmont Park, Johannesburg, another European-based 2-year-old, soared past perhaps the deepest field in the history of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile to complete an unbeaten season and stamp himself a champion on two continents as well as the early favorite for next May's Derby.

Sunday, Johannesburg returned to Ireland and the famed Ballydoyle training yard of trainer Aidan O'Brien where his course to the Derby will be plotted in the near future.

Michael Tabor, who owns Johannesburg with Mrs. John Magnier of Coolmore Stud, said Monday the Derby is the goal. How Johannesburg gets there has yet to be determined.

"In my way of thinking, he'll be trained in Ireland for the Kentucky Derby," Tabor said Monday from Barbados. "That's the way I feel at the moment, things do change as you know. Whether he'll have a prep race before it and where that would be are things that will be discussed later. I prefer [the Derby] to the English Guineas. He's proven he likes the dirt."

Tabor said Europe's important races for 3-year-olds are not run until late March or early April, leading to the likelihood that Johannesburg would get only one prep before the Derby. Tabor, who won the 1995 Kentucky Derby with Thunder Gulch, did not rule out sending Johannesburg to the U.S. for one of the traditional Derby prep races.

Before Saturday, Johannesburg had never raced on dirt or beyond six furlongs. But he displayed his class winning Group 1 races in Ireland, France, and England.

"I don't believe any horse has ever achieved what he's achieved as a 2-year-old," said Tabor, who celebrated his 60th birthday on Sunday. "You can't do any more than that."

As a son of Hennessy, Johannesburg's ability to get the Derby distance of 1 1/4 miles will be questioned. In winning the Juvenile, he showed the ability to come from off the pace and seemed to have plenty left crossing the wire.

"He was very impressive," Tabor said. "Another 330 yards is obviously going into the unknown as it was going into the unknown going a mile and a sixteenth. You'd have to take the chance."

Plans of other Derby hopefuls

Trainer Ken McPeek said Repent came out of his runner-up finish in the Juvenile in good order. He was shipped back to Kentucky on Sunday and will point to the Brown and Williamson Kentucky Jockey Club at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24

"We'll get him a spin across Churchill," McPeek said. "He's worked like a bear down there. If he's doing well we'll get that race in him down there."

McPeek said Repent would winter in Florida, getting one start at Gulfstream Park before the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in April.

Trainer David Hofmans was ecstatic with Siphonic's third-place finish. Having drawn the rail, Siphonic raced on the worst part of the track all the way around, but was defeated only 2 1/2 lengths.

"I thought that was a very gutsy race," Hofmans said. "He had to make two or three moves on the worst part of the track. He hung in there pretty good."

Siphonic, who won the Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland, may start next in the Hollywood Futurity at Hollywood Park on Dec. 15.

If he does, he will run into Officer, who suffered his first loss in six starts, finishing fifth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths as the 3-5 favorite in the Juvenile. Officer, who also had an inside post, dueled with Came Home for seven furlongs before tiring in the stretch.

Trainer Bob Baffert said Officer displaced his palate during the race. Baffert believes Officer displaced because "he was empty turning for home and he wasn't tired after the race."

Officer shipped back to California on Monday.

Godolphin still Derby-dreaming

Godolphin's duo of Ibn Al Haitham and Essence of Dubai finished ninth and 12th, respectively, in the Juvenile and may not be Derby material. But trainer Eoin Harty has high Derby hopes for King's Consul, a $5.3 million yearling purchase who won his maiden at first asking on Friday at Belmont.

"He's still green and immature physically and mentally," Harty said. "Given the proper amount of time, he's a horse that could win the Derby for them."