11/05/2004 12:00AM

Some BC winners were merely best that day


PHOENIX - After a week to absorb, assimilate, and assess, here are key final thoughts on the Breeders' Cup.

While Ghostzapper was brilliant, it seemed more a day for the consummate professional. Ashado, Singletary, Speightstown, Wilko, Better Talk Now, and even Ouija Board might not be the flashiest lights on the horizon, but each is the epitome of professionalism.

Ashado is reliable - even if she probably cannot hold a candle to Azeri and Sightseek. Singletary is rock-solid and proved himself capable of beating the best. But you came away from the Mile with the feeling that if you ran it five times you might have five different winners. Speightstown has had a strong campaign. It's doubtful, however, anyone would rate him in the same league as top sprinters Phone Trick and Groovy, or fellow BC Sprint winners Artax, Kona Gold, and Orientate. And as much as I like Speightstown, it's difficult to conceive of him getting the sprint championship because Pico Central drilled him in their lone head-to-head meeting, and Pico Central also took his show coast to coast.

Better Talk Now has had a solid career and picked the right day for the best race of his life - but you had to come away from the Turf thinking that Kitten's Joy might never lose to him again, and wouldn't have lost on this day with a better trip or ride. Ouija Board didn't show the brilliance of her Arc de Triomphe third, but she didn't have to. All she needed was a thoroughly efficient run, and that's what carried the day for her. And Wilko, who seemed defeated on the turn only to re-rally, showed that fitness and experience count. He never had been confused with, say, Johannesburg overseas, but came to the U.S. with plenty of bottom and experience off 10 races - and it showed come the eighth furlong and beyond.

Frankel and fresh BC horses

Ghostzapper's win not only earned him the Eclipse as top older horse and probably Horse of the Year (he'll get my vote), but maybe it also put to rest the nonsense of the trainer Bobby Frankel-Breeders' Cup jinx. My theory on the reason Frankel hasn't had more success in the Breeders' Cup has nothing to do with the venues or that he suddenly got stupid on the days the BC has been held.

I think Frankel's horses may well be spent by the time BC Day comes along. After all, he's winning Grade 1 races all over the country, so by the time many of his runners get to BC Day they weren't as sharp as they were earlier. Note that his winners (Squirtle Squirt, Starine, and now Ghostzapper) and those who ran well (Medaglia d'Oro) were fresh horses, whereas those who didn't do so well (Peace Rules, Sightseek, Heat Haze, Light Jig, Aldebaran) might have been low on fuel when the big day came.

Sweet Catomine's win a rare feat

Ghostzapper was the show-stopper, but not far behind him was 2-year-old filly winner Sweet Catomine. You just don't see juvenile fillies do what she did - make a run, get stopped, regather momentum, then power home and win by a clear margin. She didn't just get up by a head after the trouble; she won easily. In a number of ways, the race reminded me of two other sensational horses who overcame trouble. In the 1989 Preakness, Easy Goer had Sunday Silence boxed in behind tiring speed. Sunday Silence checked severely on the far run, allowing Easy Goer to get in front, but in the blink of an eye Sunday Silence swung out and was back at Easy Goer's throat. It was an amazing move. So, too, was Alysheba's 1987 Kentucky Derby. He nearly fell entering the stretch but regathered himself and went by Bet Twice to win. That's not to say Sweet Catomine is in their class, but what we saw from her is rare indeed.

It also gives us a fourth straight fantastic show in this race - to go with Tempera's 107 Beyer Speed Figure at Belmont, Storm Flag Flying's resurgent run at Arlington, and Halfbridled's romping win despite a terrible draw.

* I know in the wake of Wilko's BC Juvenile win there's talk about the U.S. 2-year-old male contingent being not so hot. But let's not be too hasty. Wilko was the fittest horse in the race and it showed. Afleet Alex was wide, Sun King is developing, and Roman Ruler might get back to his best form after surgery this week to remove an undescended testicle.

* Speaking of crops, even with the likes of Smarty Jones, Lion Heart, The Cliff's Edge, and Birdstone now gone from the track, the current 3-year-old crop has been brilliant. Besides those dirt stars are such 3-year-olds as Kitten's Joy, Blackdoun, Artie Schiller, Whipper, Antonius Pius, Pomeroy, Rock Hard Ten, Ashado, Stellar Jayne, Society Selection, Bwana Charlie, Ticker Tape, Ouija Board, Greek Sun, Punctilious, and others who have shown considerable ability, and they give us a lot to look forward to next year.