10/29/2001 1:00AM

Racing's biggest day was a gem

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ELMONT, N.Y. - Racing's fairest flower came to full bloom at Belmont Park on Saturday. On an extraordinary afternoon, all the aspirations and promise that went unto the concept of the World Thoroughbred Championships - the Breeders' Cup - reached fruition with a brilliant parade of international competition at a level without parallel.

The stunning drama began on a horrific note as Exogenous, the Beldame and Gazelle winner, spooked leaving the tunnel from the paddock to the track for the Breeders' Cup Distaff. She reared backward, landing heavily on her head, and at first it was feared she fractured her skull. Later it was announced there is no fracture and the chances of saving her are good, though of course her racing career is over.

With each race on the program, tension built steadily toward a peak in the $4 million Classic, which concluded with another powerful stretch duel of the sort that distinguished last year's race. On that occasion Tiznow stood a long drive gamely to beat a good European colt, Giant's Causeway, by a neck. Tiznow, a free spirit, was a problem for his people in the days leading up to this year's Classic, and many felt his antics precluded him from consideration.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Tiznow was prominent from the outset, helped to set a lively early pace. Sakhee, the Arc de Triomphe winner, making his first start on dirt, took advantage of the pace to launch a strike. Under talented Frankie Dettori, he finished full of run, reached the lead briefly near the eighth pole. Tiznow, challenged, responded gamely by regaining the lead. He won by a nose, with Chris McCarron contributing a well-judged ride. Albert the Great, who raced strongly throughout, held on well to be third.

Tiznow, who is expected to race again next season at 5, increased his earnings to $6,427,830 with victory in the Classic and became the first two-time winner. Sakhee gained stature, despite his narrow defeat. His performance was remarkable for a horse with no background on dirt, and reflects credit on his connections for perceiving his ability and having the confidence to spot him so boldly.

Galileo, a brilliant runner in Europe this season with victories in the Epsom Derby, the Irish Derby, and the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, may have shown the effects of a hard campaign.

The Classic was memorable, but so were the other Breeders' Cup events.

Fantastic Light had to be at his best to hold off the fast-closing Milan in the Turf, and he was. He ran 1 1/2 miles in a crisp 2:24.36 on very firm ground.

Johannesburg, the winner of the Juvenile, was also most impressive in his debut on dirt. A Hennessy colt, Johannesburg could have distance limitations next season, but in the meantime he is 7 for 7 and an international champion.

Repent finished strongly to be second in the Juvenile and appears to have a future next season when the distances stretch out. A Louis Quatorze colt, Repent is trained by Ken Mc Peek.

Andre Fabre of France is a master at preparing horses for the Breeders' Cup, and his work with Banks Hill, the Filly and Mare Turf winner, was outstanding. Winner of the classic French 2000 Guineas, she has natural speed.

Squirtle Squirt was a deserving winner of the Sprint but Val Royal was impressive with his thrust through the stretch to win the Mile. Tempera, by A .P. Indy, raced well to win the Juvenile Fillies and has the appearance of an Oaks prospect for next spring. Spain, beaten a head in the Distaff, may have been best. You, the odd-on favorite, had a fever and did well to finish fourth.

The World Thoroughbred Championships was an outstanding show and a successful one, attracting a crowd of 53,000 despite cold weather. The New York Racing Association staff did an admirable job of presentation under difficult circumstances.