02/19/2002 1:00AM

One stateside showing sealed it

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Like Arazi in 1991, Johannesburg was named the 2001 Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old male for his smashing victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in his lone start in this country.

Johannesburg and Arazi are the only foreign-based runners to win the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 18 runnings.

The Juvenile concluded a flawless season for Johannesburg, who won seven races from as many starts and had earnings of $1,004,758.

Johannesburg, who also was a Horse of the Year finalist, was the winner among the three voting blocs and defeated Officer and Siphonic, the other finalists in the 2-year-old male division.

Michael Tabor, who owns Johannesburg in partnership with Susan Magnier, accepted the Eclipse, which was presented by Randy Moss, a commentator for ESPN.

Johannesburg, a son of Hennessy bred by Wayne Lyster III and Jayeff B Stables in Kentucky, was bought at auction for $200,000 in Keeneland as yearling.

Racing for his Ireland-based trainer, Aidan O'Brien, Johannesburg competed for the first time on the dirt in the Juvenile. The colt also had never raced beyond six furlongs and was facing a fine group of horses in the 1 1/16-mile Juvenile, including Officer, the heaviest favorite on the Breeders' Cup card at 3-5.

Those obstacles couldn't stop Johannesburg.

Under his regular rider, Michael Kinane, Johannesburg was surrounded by horses as the 12-horse field swung into Belmont Park's stretch. Kinane eased his mount to the outside and found a seam between horses with a furlong remaining. Johannesburg charged to the wire for a 1 1/4-length win over Repent and returned to the winner's circle to the raucous cheers of the large Irish contingent in attendance.

Johannesburg, who trained at O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard in County Kildare, was the mystery horse going into the Juvenile, but his talents were well known in Europe, where he had won three Group 1 races in three countries before crossing the Atlantic. His victories in the Phoenix Stakes in Ireland, the Prix Morny in France, and the Middle Park Stakes in England clinched Johannesburg the 2-year-old championship in Europe.

It's up in the air whether Johannesburg will make a return journey to America for the Kentucky Derby, as Arazi did when he finished eighth as the favorite in 1992.

O'Brien said his plans for Johannesburg, who is in light training at Ballydoyle, are uncertain until the weather improves. Options include the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4 or the English 2000 Guineas at one mile at Newmarket on the same day.

If Johannesburg returns to the United States in the spring, he will no longer be the mystery horse he once was in these parts.