HALLANDALE, Fla. -- If the Breeders' Cup is thoroughbred racing's greatest day, it is also the source of endless speculation, countless debates and seemingly unanswerable questions.
That's before the races.
Afterward, all becomes as clear as a warm, sunny, breezy Florida afternoon. And that's what racing fans can expect for the Breeders' Cup today at Gulfstream Park near Fort Lauderdale -- from the weatherman, who's predicted a splendid afternoon.
This is the 16th Breeders' Cup, an American innovation that has brought together the top horses and horsemen from around the world for racing's richest day and ultimate challenge. If you care the least bit about horses, wagering or spectacle, you can't help but get excited about the Breeders' Cup.
"It's the best thing that's ever happened to American racing," said Michael Dickinson, the Maryland-based trainer from England. "For a racing man, this is like Christmas."
Dickinson performed his own miracle last year with Da Hoss, the courageous gelding who won the Breeders' Cup Mile off only one race after winning the Breeders' Cup Mile two years earlier. With Da Hoss sidelined and most likely retired, Dickinson has returned this year with Supreme Sound, a long shot in the Classic.
"This would be a bigger miracle than last year," Dickinson said.
But for others, the Breeders' Cup infuses confidence in owners and trainers who have managed their horses through the minefields of another year of racing and emerged in top form at season's end.
Confidence abounds, if not overflows, at the barn of Lemon Drop Kid.
"If you gave me Secretariat, Man o' War or any other horse, I wouldn't trade him for mine," said Jinny Vance, the part-time Marylander who owns the strong contender in the Classic. "That's just me. In my opinion, he's got it all."
But for most people, the Breeders' Cup is a mountain of questions: Who's best? Who's fit? Who's a good price? Who do you like?
As you make your selections -- and you've got your work cut out because all eight Breeders' Cup races are highly competitive -- here are a few of the many questions that by 5: 15 p.m. will be answered. In some cases, the outcomes will leave you shaking your head. In others, one can hope, they'll make you feel as if you're king of the world.
The first involves the most coveted award in thoroughbred racing. Can Behrens, pointed toward this day all year, rebound from two straight defeats and win the Classic, ensuring his place in history as 1999 Horse of the Year?
Can Lemon Drop Kid, on his desired dry track, finish strongly enough in the Classic -- maybe even win it -- and overtake Charismatic in the race for the Eclipse Award as 3-year-old champion? Charismatic won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but then, in one of the year's heart-rending scenes, broke his leg trying to win the Belmont.
Winning the Classic could make Lemon Drop Kid the leading candidate for Horse of the Year.
Can the 3-year-old filly Silverbulletday, the most accomplished horse in the Breeders' Cup, win her ninth race this year in the Distaff? If she prevails and the Classic produces an upset, Silverbulletday would have a convincing case for Horse of the Year.
The Europeans, who start 18 horses in Breeders' Cup races, were 0-for-28 in the two previous Breeders' Cups at Gulfstream Park. Is this their year, finally, to capture a Cup race in South Florida?
Bob Baffert's eight entrants constitute the strongest stable of any trainer in Breeders' Cup history. Can he surpass D. Wayne Lukas' 1988 record of three Breeders' Cup victories in one day?
One of Baffert's horses is Chilukki, the finely honed 2-year-old filly. Can she overcome questions about stamina in the Juvenile Fillies and stretch her unbeaten streak to seven?
One of Lukas' horses is the gutsy 2-year-old filly Surfside. Can she replicate the 1994 performance of her gallant mother, Flanders, by winning the Juvenile Fillies?
Edgar Prado, the former Maryland jockey, is on the rise nationally. Can he continue his climb to prominence by riding any of his five Breeders' Cup mounts into the winner's circle? His chance for glory is far greater than ever. In previous Breeders' Cups, Prado has ridden in only four races. His best finish was a second last year with Ally's Alley in the Juvenile.
And finally, can whichever 2-year-old wins the Juvenile break the 15-year Breeders' Cup jinx and win the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May 2000?
By then, the cycle will have begun anew. The most far-thinking horsemen and sportsmen will have begun seeing that blur in the distance known as Breeders' Cup XVII.
But first, Breeders' Cup XVI beckons. Answer the call.
What: Breeders' Cup; eight races worth $13 million
Where: Gulfstream Park, Hallandale, Fla.
TV: 1 to 5: 30 p.m., Ch. 11
Richest race: $4 million
Classic Classic favorite: Behrens
Sun staff writer Tom Keyser's Breeders' Cup selections:
2. Beautiful Pleasure
3. Banshee Breeze
2. Darling My Darling
3. Scratch Pad
2. Hawksley Hill
Filly and Mare Turf
2. Soaring Softly
1. Chief Seattle
2. High Yield
3. Captain Steve
1. Val's Prince
3. Dream Well
1. Lemon Drop Kid
2. Ecton Park
Pub Date: 11/06/99