10/30/2001 1:00AM

Eclipse thoughts after the Cup

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LAS VEGAS - Some observations from the Breeders' Cup:

Distaff

Unbridled Elaine (by Unbridled's Song) ran a remarkable race in the Distaff. Checking several times and nearly clipping heels in midstretch, she resolutely caught Spain, who looked like a runaway winner. The Distaff was supposed to decide who was the best 3-year-old filly. Santa Anita Oaks winner Golden Ballet was injured early in the year and didn't race enough to be considered, while Fleet Renee's shining moments in the Ashland and Mother Goose were dimmed by her loss in the Gazelle. Only a victory in the Distaff could have made her a contender, but she was scratched from the race.

Flute emerged as the leader after victories in the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes, but her poor showing in the Distaff following her third in the Beldame ended her championship hopes.

Entering the Distaff, Exogenous was the "now" filly. She finished third in the Mother Goose and second in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama. With the addition of blinkers, Exogenous became a new filly, winning the Gazelle and Beldame.

Unbridled Elaine finished fourth in the Acorn, followed by victories in the Iowa Oaks and Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks. A game second to Macho Uno in the Pennsylvania Derby, she seemed uncomfortable on Keeneland's surface and finished fourth in the Spinster.

Although Unbridled Elaine just may be the best of a talented group, Exogenous gets my vote. Despite an erratic run in the Beldame in which she bothered Spain, she was much the best. Unfortunately, her accident before the Distaff prevented her from proving it decisively.

Juvenile Fillies

This division also had different leaders during the year, and the championship came down to this race. You won the Adirondack Stakes, and was the strong favorite in the Juvenile Fillies based on her impressive Frizette victory, but finished fourth. Habibti was the flavor of the month after her win in the Del Mar Debutante, but finished a dull seventh in the Juvenile Fillies. Bella Belluci could have wrapped up the title with a win in the Juvenile Fillies but finished third. Tempera, was the leader after her nine-length Sorrento score in August, but fell out of favor after her loss to Habibti in the Del Mar Debutante. Unraced since the Sorrento, Tempera's victory in the Juvenile Fillies should garner her an Eclipse.

Mile

Val Royal (Royal Academy) emulated his sire's victory in this race and if Julio Canani can keep him together, it would be no surprise to see him repeat in this event. City Zip faded after scorching fractions on a very fast turf course. Express Tour and Balto Star will hopefully be returned to dirt, where both would be strong candidates for next year's prestigious Metropolitan Handicap. Three-year-old Navesink, who finished fifth, beaten only four lengths, is going to be a major player next year at longer distances.

Sprint

Squirtle Squirt was the second son of Marquetry - the first was Artax in 1999 - to win the Sprint, and was the unlikely savior for Bobby Frankel. Xtra Heat became the latest filly to run well in the Sprint, and her performance was exceptional considering the dead rail. Kona Gold never looked comfortable on the Belmont surface, while Mozart, climbing very badly throughout the race, displayed action typical of a turf horse who just isn't suited to dirt.

Filly and Mare Turf

In last week's column I selected Banks Hill (Danehill) to win the Mile, and when she was entered in the Filly and Mare Turf, I thought the distance might be too far. Not with the esteemed Andre Fabre at the helm. Banks Hill's victory was the easiest of all Breeders' Cup races. Her full brother Dansili finished fastest of all in last year's Mile, running third by a neck and a nose. With Lailani up the track, Banks Hill wins the Eclipse.

Juvenile

If Officer (Bertrando) was the super animal he was said to be, his inside post should not have been a factor in his loss. Unlike Johannesburg (Hennessy) in the post right next to him, Officer couldn't be rated and dueled with Came Home. Officer is simply a very nice colt who will be a top miler next year. Johannesburg, on the other hand, ran a remarkable race. He was full of run from the bell, rated under wraps until the stretch where he split horses, and showed a spectacular burst of speed to clear the field. It was extraordinary considering that he had never raced beyond six furlongs or on dirt.

When Arazi won the Juvenile over Bertrando, he won the Eclipse as best 2-year-old. This year, Johannesburg should win the Eclipse over a son of Bertrando. Even with his sparkling victory at 1 1/16 miles, Johannesburg is better suited to next year's 2000 Guineas at one mile than the Kentucky Derby. Repent (Louis Quatorze) and Publication (Petionville) closed with a flourish and have pedigrees and the style for the Derby.

Turf

Fantastic Light (Rahy) was the single of the day and is a deserving Eclipse winner. Blazing Fury (Dynaformer) finished well to be fourth and will be a major player in this race as a 4-year-old next year.

Classic

Second by a nose two years in a row to Tiznow (Cee's Tizzy), Godolphin is probably hoping Tiznow won't be in next year's race. While many thought Godolphin made the wrong decision by running Sakhee in the Classic, Godolphin should be applauded for providing another thriller. Macho Uno (Holy Bull) ran better than expected at this distance, while it's too bad we never got to see the real Galileo (Sadler's Wells), who probably would have won the Turf.