10/23/2001 12:00AM

FanFest 2001 (minus fans and festivity)


For a FanFest, there weren't many fans, and it wasn't that festive.

Few people were taking advantage of the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships FanFest on Tuesday at lunch hour in Rockefeller Plaza, although Breeders' Cup and National Thoroughbred Racing Association officials said they were pleased so far with the outcome.

The two-day FanFest presented on Monday and Tuesday was a wholesale departure from the event that was originally envisioned. Planners had hoped to erect a large tent just outside Rockefeller Plaza's popular outdoor skating rink, and park the NTRA's mobile marketing vehicle - a kind of video arcade on wheels - just outside, drawing tourists and racing fans into an interactive experience that highlighted racing's history and the upcoming World Thoroughbred Championships.

That plan was drawn up before the events of Sept. 11 and the latest anthrax scares. As a result, security at Rockefeller Plaza, which serves as a hub for both commuters and tourists, has been dramatically increased, and the NTRA's outdoor plans were scrapped.

That left the NTRA with a dramatically scaled-down event. Instead of a real starting gate and interactive exhibits, the NTRA had to settle for three small informational booths and a small art exhibit tucked into the center of an eating area underneath 30 Rockefeller Plaza, and a continuous loop of past Breeders' Cup races playing on a large projection videoscreen in a nearby public eating area.

At the art exhibit, which included paintings on loan from the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, two sisters, Jeanie Palmieri and Barbara Gerage, perused 19th-century racing landscapes and portraits. Palmieri described herself as a racing fan.

"These pictures are just gorgeous," said Palmieri, who works in Rockefeller Center and plans to attend the Breeders' Cup on Saturday. "I'd come here even if I didn't work upstairs."

At the eating area, a number of young professionals talked and ate while occasionally glancing up to catch the end of one of the replayed races. One of the avid watchers was Arnaud Denies, a Frenchman who has lived in Manhattan for three years.

Denies said he had never been to the races in the United States, although he had gone several times in Paris.

Is he planning to attend the Breeders' Cup? "I heard that it is in New York this year," he said. "Maybe."