10/26/2001 11:00PM

Johannesburg on top of the world


ELMONT, N.Y. - He had never been on dirt, had not raced beyond six furlongs, and was facing probably the deepest field in the history of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Johannesburg overcame those obstacles with a furious closing kick in the stretch that swept him past North America's best 2-year-olds and into the Belmont Park winner's circle, a 1 1/4-length victor in the $1 million Juvenile. Repent, a 42-1 shot, rallied for second 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Siphonic. Publication finished fourth, two lengths ahead of 3-5 favorite Officer.

French Assault, Came Home, Saarland, Ibn Al Haitham, It'sallinthechase, Jump Start, and Essence of Dubai completed the order of finish.

At 3-5, Officer was the strongest favorite on Saturday's Breeders' Cup card. But after dueling with Came Home through three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.01, Officer had nothing left for the stretch and finished fifth, beaten 5 1/4 lengths.

He joined Easy Goer and Dehere as odds-on favorites to lose the Juvenile.

"He hit the gate coming out," trainer Bob Baffert said. "The second jump he was behind there. I wish they would have cut him off and he could have sat behind horses. He got in a speed duel with Came Home and that cooked him. He's not used to that, maybe he needed that hard race he didn't get. He got it today and he'll probably be ready to run in three weeks, but what are you gonna do? I'm very disappointed in him, but it looks like he came back good."

The same could not be said for Jump Start, the D. Wayne Lukas-trained colt who pulled up lame after finishing 11th in the 12-horse field. He was diagnosed with a displaced lateral condylar fracture of his left front fetlock joint. He was scheduled to undergo surgery Sunday and he may not race again. Dr. Stephen Selway was to perform the surgery.

"Because the fracture is displaced, it's got to be put together with screws," said Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, who added that Jump Start's future as a racehorse "is still an open question based on how much damage he's got. Those types of fractures often are [career-ending] when you consider what the horse can do at stud."

Johannesburg came into the Breeders' Cup Juvenile as a mystery horse. He had won all six of his starts in Europe - including three Group 1's - on turf at six furlongs. As a son of Hennessy - who finished second in the 1995 Juvenile at Belmont Park - out of an Ogygian mare, Johannesburg certainly had the breeding to handle the dirt.

"He's bred for it," said jockey Michael Kinane, who rode his first Breeders' Cup winner. "I was really confident out there."

After breaking last, Johannesburg quickly got into contention and was fifth by the time the first quarter was run in 23.61 seconds. Came Home and Officer were heads apart through those fractions, and Johannesburg raced between Siphonic and French Assault entering the turn.

As Siphonic made a bid for the lead up the rail, Kinane continued to sit and he was still behind a wall of horses turning for home. In upper stretch, Kinane guided Johannesburg to the four path and with a few taps of Kinane's whip, Johannesburg forged to the lead and won under a drive.

Johannesburg covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.47 and returned $16.40 to win.

"He's a wonderful horse," said trainer Aidan O'Brien, who won his first Breeders' Cup race. "He's a natural in everything he does. He has such speed, which we knew was his forte. The way he travels is something beautiful."

Added Kinane, "My plan was always to wait and I was going to wait until the last furlong with him. He's the General. The other was an Officer."

Repent, winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, closed strongly to be second, a result that was exhilarating and frustrating to trainer Ken McPeek.

"I'm mad because we've run second, and we've run third in these kind of races, and this is a top, top horse," said McPeek, who saddled Tejano Run to a third-place finish in this race in 1994. "He got beat by a nice horse."

Probably by a champion in two countries.

for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile chart.*

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