11/01/2004 1:00AM

An excuse to go a little crazy


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - When it comes to winning a Breeders' Cup event, there are no written rules of behavior, and certainly not in Texas, where costumes are encouraged and excess is required.

As a result, no one batted an eye last Saturday at Lone Star Park when Julio Canani, the Peruvian gaucho, sauntered into the walking ring for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies wearing brown boots, shades, and a sharp fawn Stetson right out of the box.

Nor did anyone blink when Bobby Frankel, 0 for 5 on the day, ripped off his fine blue silk tie in a last-ditch attempt to change his luck before tightening the cinch on Ghostzapper for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

And the Lone Star crowd was downright adoring of the Little Red Feather Racing crew, as they rocked the balcony of the second-floor Champions dining room to the rhythm of Singletary's upset in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Beneath them on the grandstand apron, fans turned to applaud.

By comparison, Todd Pletcher was schoolboy polite in taking honors as trainer of the day after the thoroughly professional performances of Ashado in the Distaff and Speightstown in the Sprint, much like Graham Motion, both shy and proud while basking in the post-Turf glow of Better Talk Now.

And while British reserve was held in good form by Lord Derby and Edward Dunlop after the anticipated procession by Ouija Board in the Filly and Mare Turf, trainer Jeremy Noseda and bloodstock agent Jamie McCalmont can be forgiven their calisthenics of joy when 28-1 Wilko brought 10 English starts to the table and stuck his thumb in the eye of the American-packed Juvenile.

"There's a new sheriff in town," Canani announced as he went to work tossing Corey Nakatani atop the statuesque Sweet Catomine for the Juvenile Fillies.

A few minutes later, after Canani had made his way through a wall-to-wall crowd ("Good luck, Julio," shouted a fan. "You look like something from 'Deadwood.'"), he doffed his hat and shades and peered through the layers of clubhouse glass as Sweet Catomine knifed her way through the field.

"Oh, Sweet Catomine has checked!" cried Tom Durkin when Nakatani was forced to tap the brakes in traffic on the final turn.

"She can win anyway," Canani muttered under his breath. Still, this was no time to take back. "Get out. Get out. Get out, Corey!" Canani exhorted, building steam as Sweet Catomine kicked into the clear. "Yes! Now come on, girl. Come on, baby. Come on! That's my girl."

Canani descended to the winner's circle amid a swirl of congratulations, all the while praising his filly to the Texas sky and wondering aloud if this might mean he would get more than his usual handful of 2-year-olds to train.

"I don't care," Canani decided. "I do this to enjoy myself. A filly like this makes it special."

"Julio," whispered a bystander. "Your hat."

"What, did I hit somebody with it?"

"No, cowpoke. You put it on backwards."

It really didn't matter, because Sweet Catomine's victory was utterly convincing, aesthetically pleasing, and three lengths faster than the 1 1/16 miles posted by Wilko in the Juvenile. Moreover, the filly marked Canani's third Breeders' Cup score in 10 starters (12 starters by the end of the day), a strike rate that puts most other trainers to shame.

Except, of course, for someone like Don Chatlos, who made his Breeders' Cup debut with Singletary, a $3,200 yearling who is now, officially, a Cinderella story.

"I keep thinking about my grandfather," said Billy Koch, point man for the Little Red Feather Racing syndicate. "How he would have loved this."

He might have commissioned a script. Howard W. Koch Jr., the former vice president of Hollywood Park who died in 2000, was a lifelong movie industry player whose filmography included first assistant director for "Chinatown" and "The Way We Were," producer for "Airplane!" and "Ghost," and executive producer for "Wayne's World."

The elder Koch was also co-star of 1977's most remarkable California racing show. Telly's Pop, owned by Koch and Telly Savalas, swept the West Coast 2-year-old events and set records for winner's circle attendance with what seemed like a cast of thousands. Billy Koch was the 8-year-old kid in the middle.

"When Telly's Pop won at Bay Meadows, they had to create an auxiliary winner's circle," Koch recalled. "That was me, almost hidden underneath the flowers."

Apparently, the torch has been passed. Ten-year-old Jose Santos Jr., whose father reached the racing heights aboard Funny Cide, latched onto Koch and the Singletary bunch before the Mile, then somehow survived the celebration on the Lone Star balcony without bringing down child endangerment charges.

"Look," piped young Jose as he watched the Mile replay with Koch and his partners. "Here's where I disappear."

"Where's our Little Joe? Where's our Little Joe?" they chanted, as Little Joe beamed.

"I can't imagine doing this alone," Koch said, finally taking a deep breath. "I mean, what fun would this be, all by myself? You've got to share incredible moments like this."

No question. Spread the cheer. Party on.