10/31/2005 1:00AM

Horsemanship, handed down

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ELMONT, N.Y. - By now it should be evident that a passion for Thoroughbred racing is instilled not by mass marketing, advertising campaigns, or premium giveaways. It's a rare individual who wakes up one morning, imbued with the inspiration of a slick radio spot, and heads straight for the nearest racetrack.

No, horse racing requires a deeper penetration. It is a generational gift, handed downward and onward by fathers, mothers, friends, and mentors, which is why more than 54,000 people - spectators and participants - braved frozen toes and runny noses last Saturday at chilly Belmont Park, convinced they would witness something special, something they could pass on as part of racing's greater history.

They did, especially if they were associated with victorious Folklore, Stevie Wonderboy, Intercontinental, Silver Train, Artie Schiller, Pleasant Home, Shirocco, or Saint Liam. They did, even if they backed such popular disappointments as Lost in the Fog, Ashado, Singletary, and Borrego. And they did, even if it was to bear solemn witness to the fatally injured Funfair.

Late in the afternoon, as darkness had fallen on the 22nd Breeders' Cup program and a fingernail moon was peeking through the clouds of a cold, charcoal sky, William Warren was asked if he would be interested in keeping Breeders' Cup Classic winner Saint Liam in training long enough for a possible showdown with Afleet Alex in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in early December.

The question had been posed several times, and the answers, to that point, had been unclear. Standing behind the film-room interview table, deep in the bowels of Belmont Park, Warren shifted gears, steered away from the issue, and instead began to share the tale of his father, William Kelly Warren, whose name, in the traditional Celtic, had just been carried by the horse who had won America's richest race.

"He pulled himself up by his bootstraps," Warren said. "I idolize my father. And I prayed today - because I have six older sisters, and that's a bit unusual, and my dad kept trying until I came along - I prayed that I would be a worthy son.

"I admire the owners of Afleet Alex very, very much, because of what they do for charity," Warren went on, referring to the Alex's Lemonade Stand campaign to raise money for research into childhood cancer. "And just to let you know the facts, I've negotiated breeding rights [to Saint Liam] with Lane's End Farm, and 50 percent of those are going to go to a charity in Tulsa, Oklahoma."

Warren's tribute to his father was echoed throughout the day, especially in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the Breeders' Cup Mile, in which the Hall of Fame names of Mandella and Jerkens figured prominently. Not, however, in the way fans had come to expect.

Gary Mandella, the 33-year-old son of six-time Breeders' Cup winner Richard, came within a lousy head of beating Silver Train in the Sprint with Taste of Paradise, while 46-year-old Jimmy Jerkens, whose father is the fabled Allen, smashed the family's 0-for-Breeders' Cup jinx by winning the Mile with Artie Schiller.

"Gary was pretty disappointed," Richard Mandella said. "It's tough to lose a big one like that. But he's got a right to be proud. His horse ran great."

Allen Jerkens tried to match his son in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but he had to settle for second with Society Selection, who was best of the rest behind the romping Pleasant Home.

"At least I finally hit the board in one of these things," Jerkens said as he encountered Richard Mandella near the paddock.

"Yeah, your filly ran good," Mandella replied. "But how about those kids? They're taking over."

"That's all right," Jerkens replied. "At least we don't have to feed them anymore."

There was a time, well-documented and not so long ago, that Rick Dutrow was hard at work squandering all the advantages of being the son of the widely respected Marylander, Richard Dutrow.

Today, as the trainer of both Saint Liam and Silver Train, Rick Dutrow is able to summon the tales of his drug-using, down-and-out days sleeping in a barn at Aqueduct as a metaphor for how far his life has come.

"One night I'm laying in bed - they've got these drop ceilings - and a mouse falls right in bed with me," Dutrow said. "I wasn't scared or nothing. 'This is my bed, man. You better get the [expletive] out of here.' "

The elder Dutrow was never in a position to train a Breeders' Cup winner, but he had a stack of stakes wins, with horses like King's Swan and Lite the Fuse, and at the time of his death in early 2000 he had 3,665 victories to his name, good for eighth place on the all-time list of North American trainers.

"I think about him all the time," Dutrow said. "But what am I gonna do? Dad taught the fundamentals of the game. But he taught by example. He would never pull you aside and say, 'Here's what you do here.' If you wanted to learn, he'd say, 'Here's the opportunity. Here's the problem. Now go find out.'

"And he was right," Dutrow added. "That's how I learned. I learned from the horses."