Oct 23, 2001 7:46 AM

Belmont Park is the Mecca of horse racing as horses from throughout the world will travel here with a sense of pilgrimage this Saturday for the 18th running of the Breeders’ Cup.

Because of the event’s international flavor, its promoters have subtitled it, “The World Thoroughbred Championships.” As such, it merits copious space in the nation’s daily newspapers, but whether it will receive it remains to be seen. In a case of bad luck, the Breeders’ Cup will happen on the same day as the opening of the World Series, which was pushed back a week because of the tragic events of September 11. That’s too bad as there are very interesting story lines connected with Saturday’s races.

Usually the Breeders’ Cup race that attracts the most attention is the Classic and such would have been the case this year had not 3-year-old champion Point Given been retired due to an injury.

But this Saturday, the race that will be the focus of most of the attention is the Juvenile. That’s because of the presence of Officer, a California-bred son of Bertrando.

A stablemate of Point Given trained by Bob Baffert, Officer is unbeaten in five starts and is the most talked about young horse to come along in many years. In his most recent start, the Champagne Stakes at Belmont, he simply cantered home 3½ lengths ahead of his field, never being extended. In fact, he’s never been extended in any of his races.

 The toughest job his rider, Victor Espinoza, has is reining the colt in during the late stages of a race. He went off at 1-5 in the Champagne and you’re not going to get much better on him this Saturday. Siphonic, an impressive winner of the Lane’s End Futurity at Keeneland, and Came Home, winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, appear to be Officer’s chief rivals but a victory by ­­either would be a huge upset.

Another story line has to do with veteran trainer Bobby Frankel. Although he has been saddling stakes winners this year at an astonishing rate, Frankel is 0-for-37 in Breeders’ Cup races. That could change dramatically this week as Frankel will be sending out the favorite in three of the races on the eight-race card.

In the Classic, Frankel’s Aptitude will be favored. He’s coming off a 10-length victory in Belmont’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, in which he turned the race’s 11/4 miles in 2:013/5. The chief threat to Aptitude would appear to be coming from England in the form of the wonderful 3-year-old, Galileo. But Galileo could be batting a sticky wicket here as the Classic would be his first race ever over a dirt track.

Frankels’ other two favorites are Flute in the Distaff and You in the Juvenile Fillies.

The Filly and Mare turf looks like a battle between the English-bred Lailani and the French-bred England’s Legend. They ran 1-2 in the Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont.

English invader Fantastic Light has been pre-entered in both the Turf and the Classic. It’s more likely he’ll run in the Turf, a race in which he would be a rather short-priced favorite.

The Mile, run over the turf, is an interesting race. This corner’s selection for that one is Hap, trained by Bill Mott and to be ridden by Jerry Bailey.

The Sprint is, as always, a crap shoot. One theory in handicapping this race is to go with a horse that’s been running in quality distance races and is now dropping down to a shorter route. Past Sprint winners who fit this profile include Precisionist, Smile and Gulch. Also, don’t be afraid to take a flyer on an English horse. Remember Sheikh Albadou.

NBC, which has televised the Breeders’ Cup since its inception, will again do the honors this week with the knowledgeable and personable Tom Hammond anchoring the telecast. The network’s current contract to televise the Breeders’ Cup expires after this Saturday and Breeders’ Cup officials and network brass are already holding conversations regarding a new contract. Even though the ratings for the Breeders’ Cup have been drab, NBC is likely to renew, especially as the network now has racing’s Triple Crown and would want to maintain continuity.

The board of directors of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. has approved a conditional rotation for the next four runnings. Arlington Park in suburban Chicago will be the host track in 2002, the races will be held at Santa Anita in 2003, Churchill Downs will be the site in 2004 and Lone Star Park in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex area will be the site in 2005.