09/18/2006 12:00AM

Two potential matchups for the ages


NEW YORK - No matter the degree of your involvement in horse racing, this is the time of year when the Breeders' Cup is the prime topic of conversation among racing people. And already, some interesting scenarios have developed in some of the eight Breeders' Cup races to be run Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs. Here's a look at two of the most notable ones:

Breeders' Cup Classic: Fans are salivating at the potential of this year's BC Classic. As if a potential matchup between the brilliant 3-year-old Bernardini and the top older horses Invasor and Lava Man weren't sexy enough, there is the added intrigue of possible participation of three top-class European horses: Shirocco, Dylan Thomas, and David Junior. But it is far from a given that this scenario will come together.

On this side of the pond, Bernardini and Invasor are scheduled to face each other for the first time on Oct. 7 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park. But what happens if one of these horses beats the other with authority in the Gold Cup? Will there be a rematch in the Classic?

Let's say Bernardini wallops Invasor in the Gold Cup. Would it then make sense for the owner of Invasor, who is not Breeders' Cup eligible, to supplement to the Classic, even if the owner is Sheikh Hamdan, and even if the new requirements for supplementing make the fees more reasonable than they ever have been before? And if Bernardini does whip Invasor in the Gold Cup, would Sheikh Hamdan supplement Invasor to the Classic when doing so could be a stumbling block to the Horse of the Year prospects of Bernardini, who is owned by Sheikh Hamdan's brother, Sheikh Mohammed?

And then there is Lava Man. He has had a tremendous yet somewhat overlooked campaign this year, in which he won all six of his starts, including every big California race for older horses on dirt, and a big one on turf as well. But Lava Man has never run well outside of Southern California, and that's a significant issue.

As for the Europeans, Shirocco has already proven his mettle, having won the BC Turf last year. He hasn't lost since, and just beat the outstanding Hurricane Run in Paris. Dylan Thomas won the Irish Champion and Irish Derby, and was beaten a nose and a head in the Epsom Derby. And David Junior, a three-time Group 1 winner this year, is considered a specialist at 1 1/4 miles, the distance of the Classic. Shirocco is trained by Andre Fabre, who engineered the biggest upset in Breeders' Cup history when he brought Arcangues from France to win the 1993 Classic at 133-1. Dylan Thomas is trained by Aidan O'Brien, who brought Giant's Causeway over and just missed in the 2000 Classic. And David Junior is trained by Brian Meehan, who, in his limited experience shipping to this country, upset the Grade 1 Gazelle Handicap on dirt in 1993 with Buy the Sport. But even with trainer precedent to support them, there is no guarantee that Shirocco, Dylan Thomas, or David Junior will reproduce their excellent European form on a dirt surface they have never raced on before.

So as for this Classic potentially being one of the best ever, many things will have to go just right.

BC Filly and Mare Turf: The BC Classic - in fact, the Breeders' Cup - immediately established itself as an event of supreme importance when Wild Again, Gate Dancer, and Slew o' Gold came hurtling toward the wire together in the first Classic in 1984. The BC Juvenile became made as an event when Arazi, in a performance that was almost Secretariat-like, wowed everyone in the 1991 Juvenile. Not to disparage any of its past winners, but the Filly and Mare Turf, the youngest BC race, still does not have that kind of watershed moment. That could change this year, thanks to a potential matchup between Ouija Board and Gorella, which could overshadow many of the other BC races.

Ouija Board won the Filly and Mare turf in 2004, and last year, at a time when her form was so questionable that people wondered if she was finished, she was a strong second in this race. But Ouija Board might now be in the finest form of her career, having defeated the since-deceased Dubai World Cup winner Electrocutionist in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, won the Nassau over the high-class Alexander Goldrun, and lost narrowly to Dylan Thomas in the Irish Champion.

Gorella, an unlucky third in the BC Mile last year, displayed an impressive late burst of speed to win the Just a Game two starts back, and was awesome winning the Beverly D. most recently. In the Beverly D., Gorella looped the field, going from virtually last to first in the stretch while barely out of a common gallop. In the minds of many, Gorella was the best horse to race at Arlington that day, and the list includes The Tin Man, winner of the Arlington Million; Cacique, second in the Million and winner of the subsequent Man o' War; and Showing Up, winner of the Secretariat.

Barring injury, the one thing that could derail this matchup is if Gorella's connections opt for another go at the Mile. Here's hoping they don't.