10/27/2003 12:00AM

Most championships still up in air


ARCADIA, Calif. - As the smoke clears from a Breeders' Cup that will be forever remembered for the way trainer Dick Mandella turned it into his own private playground, as well as the heat and the terrifying wildfires uncomfortably close by, there are two topics that cry out for immediate discussion.

The first is how surprisingly little this Breeders' Cup did to clear up this year's divisional championships. By overcoming the 14-hole and proving what a special filly she is in winning the Juvenile Fillies, Halfbridled clinched the 2-year-old filly championship. And, by virtue of their victories in the Filly and Mare Turf, and Mile, respectively, the turf female title should come down to either Islington or Six Perfections. But otherwise, that's it. The rest of the Breeders' Cup results did little, if anything, to resolve the Eclipse Awards picture.

There will be sentiment for Action This Day to be champion 2-year-old male because he won the big one in his division on the big day. This Juvenile was the weakest ever, however, lacking the winners of the Champagne, Norfolk, Breeders' Futurity, and Hopeful, so it's not like Action This Day won a definitive race. And Action This Day was still 26-1 in this depleted field, which says a lot. We have to hope races like the Remsen, Kentucky Jockey Club, and Hollywood Futurity will settle this matter.

The 3-year-old filly division is equally unsettled. By virtue of a second-place finish in the Distaff, a finish that made the difference last year for Farda Amiga, Elloluv merely becomes one of a handful of title contenders that include Bird Town, Lady Tak, Spoken Fur, and Island Fashion. Each has shown flashes of talent as well as an inability to sustain performance. And it should be noted that Farda Amiga was more accomplished than Elloluv was before she finished second in the Distaff, and Farda Amiga was second to Azeri. Elloluv finished second to a 40-1 shot.

The failures of Ten Most Wanted and Funny Cide in the Classic certainly took Ten Most Wanted out of consideration for the 3-year-old male championship, and kept the door wide open for Empire Maker, who retired a month ago.

Cajun Beat's upset at 22-1 in the Sprint made him a contender for the sprint championship, but it did not unseat Aldebaran and Shake You Down as the first two favorites for this Eclipse Award. Shake You Down was game finishing third in the Sprint after breaking poorly, but Aldebaran was the victim of another big raceday failure by the Bobby Frankel barn. Breeders' Cup Day for Frankel was reminiscent of Travers Day at Saratoga, when a lot of heavily bet Frankel-trained horses performed dismally. These big race-day cold spells for Frankel seem to happen with uncomfortable frequency.

The first dead heat in Breeders' Cup history took place in the Turf between last year's winner and defending turf champion, High Chaparral, and Johar. The fact that this Turf lacked a decisive performance suggests that it may not play its usual profound role in determining the champion, and that Storming Home may still be the leader of the division, even though he was dismal Saturday.

Adoration was that 40-1 shot who won the Distaff, but that won't be enough to secure her divisional honors. Sightseek, who never ran a step on Saturday, won many more Grade 1 events (four), and Azeri still has an enormous reputation.

At the very best, Pleasantly Perfect's upset victory in the Classic made him only a marginal contender for champion handicap horse because, as nice as they are, wins in the Goodwood and Breeders' Cup Classic are just not enough. The greater impact of Pleasantly Perfect's win is that he ruined the Eclipse Award aspirations of Perfect Drift, he seriously damaged those of Medaglia d'Oro, and he greatly enhanced the position of Mineshaft. After all was said and done Saturday, Mineshaft remains the most accomplished horse in America this year, and is still the favorite not only for champion older male, but also Horse of the Year.

The other big topic in this Breeders' Cup was the abject failure of horses who were based in the East for any meaningful period of time. There wasn't a lot of East Coast representation in this Breeders' Cup, which itself was a disgrace, and not a single Eastern horse won on Saturday. Not only that, of the 24 spots available to fill the first three positions in the eight Breeders' Cup races, only four were filled by horses from the East.

Don't tell me this has to do with the travel or the heat, because horses from Europe had to ship twice as far and figured to be more affected by the heat. Yet all they did was win three Breeders' Cup races, including a sweep of the first three positions in the Filly and Mare Turf, and a first and third in the Turf.

Also, don't tell me East Coast horses can't ship West and win, because that's nonsense. In the last Breeders' Cup held in California in 1997 at Hollywood Park, California-based horses won two races, but three horses from the East won - two from New York and one from Toronto. Including the Cup rout of 1993 at Santa Anita, when California horses won five races to the East's one, California-based horses had finished first in 15 and Eastern horses in 11 of the 35 Cup races run in California before Saturday.

No, the failure Saturday by Eastern horses had nothing to do with travel or heat. Let's be honest: It revealed that, on the whole, the East's best currently does not stack up with the West's best.