09/29/2002 11:00PM

No one steps up for the Classic

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NEW YORK - With less than four weeks to go until Breeders' Cup Day, the outlook for the most important Breeders' Cup race, the Breeders' Cup Classic, can only be termed a mess.

First, you have to digest Saturday's Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. Evening Attire, who has always been slighted as a performer, won the Gold Cup decisively. But you have to wonder how much the victory's appearance was enhanced by the subpar performances of several who finished behind him.

Gold Cup runner-up Lido Palace was one-paced throughout, suggesting that his unimpressive victory in the Woodward three weeks earlier was not an aberration, and that he is tailing off at an inopportune time. You have to wonder if he will even be supplemented to the Classic at a prohibitive $800,000.

Then, there was the dull performance of Milwaukee Brew, who has been one of the best in the West's handicap division but who spit out the bit in the stretch to finish sixth. At least he finished ahead of Repent, who was the Gold Cup favorite after a strong second in the Travers that had come after a long layoff. But Repent quit even worse to finish behind Milwaukee Brew.

Still, the biggest disappointment of the weekend occurred on Sunday, when Macho Uno finished last behind four moderate opponents in Arlington's Washington Park Handicap. If Macho Uno had won this race the way he was supposed to, he might have become the favorite for the Classic. Instead, his performance was so dismal that it would be no surprise if Macho Uno were withdrawn from consideration for the Classic and his retirement announced soon.

On top of all this, there is the uncertainty of several Classic aspirants electing to train up to the big race instead of taking a more traditional prep-race path. One is Medaglia d'Oro, whose Travers victory wasn't exactly validated by Repent's flop in the Gold Cup. Another is Came Home, whose Pacific Classic score wasn't cast in a favorable light by Milwaukee Brew in the Gold Cup, since Milwaukee Brew was a good third in the Pacific Classic. Another is War Emblem, who stopped in the Pacific Classic.

When it comes to this year's Breeders' Cup Classic, right now I can think of only one word: Help!

Future wager under scrutiny

The Breeders' Cup Future Wager has been a hot topic recently, and not for positive reasons. The retirement of Street Cry the day after Pool 3 of the bet closed, and the revelation that Miss Houdini sustained a potentially career-ending tendon injury before she was offered as an individual wagering interest in Pool 4 - a matter that was not made public until after betting on Pool 4 closed - have raised important concerns.

Barry Irwin of Team Valor Stable voiced some of these concerns in the letters page in Sunday's editions. In part, Irwin wrote, "If somebody plans to accept bets on a sporting event, they owe it to the betting public to give them some kind of chance to make a buck."

That concept is indisputable. I was a member of the five-person committee that picked the individual betting interests in all four rounds of the Breeders' Cup Future Wager. At the same time, my loyalties are completely with the horseplayer, because I am a horseplayer, too. I know very well that it is the money horseplayers push through the betting windows that makes this game go.

It is up to every horseplayer, however, to recognize that future wagers, by their very nature, carry greater risk than traditional bets. Greatly offsetting this risk is the fact that odds in future wagers are usually much higher than they would be on race day.

In the Breeders' Cup Future Wager, there were 23 individual betting interests offered in each race, with a field bet comprising all other horses. Even if the selection committee did a remarkable job and months ahead of race day was able to identify all those who would eventually start and make them individual betting interests, there would still be at least nine other individual betting interests who would not become Breeders' Cup starters, since each race is limited to 14 horses.

It has been suggested that, in the future, the Breeders' Cup contact the connections of all potential individual betting interests to determine the health of and intentions for these horses. That sounds good, but in reality, not every horseman would be forthcoming with such information, because it could be damaging to the value of a certain horse if it was revealed that he had an injury.

One other point Irwin included in his letter was, "Nor should it be up to an owner like myself to alert Arlington officials that Team Valor has no intention of running Added Edge in the Breeders' Cup." Added Edge was offered as one of the 23 individual betting interests in the Juvenile.

This comment is alarming because of its contempt for the betting public. Why shouldn't it be the responsibility of Irwin and every other horseman to think of the public, which funds the purses their horses race for, by alerting officials or the media about the status of their horses?

Trainer Elliott Walden did just that when an injury surfaced to Awesome Humor, the filly that he trains for WinStar Farm. And, because he did the right thing, Breeders' Cup Future Wagering on her was immediately halted.