LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Seven is the buzzword, and not just for baseball's latest climactic classic. Horse racing also is about to unveil a dramatic fall finish.
The seven-race, $10 million Breeders' Cup will be held Saturday at Churchill Downs with a new twist on a familiar theme: Victory in any race could mean riches and a championship for a horse and its connections -- but winning all seven could mean an unprecedented coup for those fans watching and betting throughout the country.
For the first time since its 1984 inception, the Breeders' Cup will offer a national Pick-7 wager. The gimmick will be available at tracks and wagering entities in about 30 states, including Laurel Race Course and Pimlico intertrack in Maryland.
"There is no question the pool will reach into the millions of dollars," said Tom Meeker, Churchill Downs president.
Fittingly, the wager will conclude with what should be the most important race of the 1991 racing season. America's top Horse of the Year candidate, In Excess, is penciled in for the $3 million Classic, although trainer Bruce Jackson yesterday refused again commit himself on whether In Excess would bypass the Classic for the Mile or Sprint. The 4-year-old colt is pre-entered in all three, but when entries are accepted tomorrow morning, Jackson will be permitted to enter his star in only one of them.
"I'll wait until Wednesday" to decide, said Jackson, who added that the colt's work schedule would be determined by which race In Excess enters.
In Excess galloped two miles yesterday, typical of the relatively light training regimen that most horses undergo in the days before the Breeders' Cup. Final serious workouts were completed yesterday by Unbridled, Itsallgreektome and some lesser names among an expected record 94 runners, and sharpeners for many others are scheduled for today or tomorrow.
Weather and track conditions are a concern for Saturday. Churchill Downs, which held the series in 1988 in its only previous role as Breeders' Cup host, is the only track to have an off track in seven prior runnings. The surface was muddy while a cold, steady drizzle persisted in 1988, and nothing is written in stone to keep the weather from being any worse this time around.
Still, many factors went into giving Churchill another Breeders' Cup. A record crowd of 71,237, a Cup record, braved the elements three years ago. A Kentuckian, John Gaines, is the founder of the program, and Kentuckians are prominent on the list of Breeders' Cup officers. Kentucky is the world's most renowned area for breeders. And Churchill Downs not only owns rich racing tradition as Kentucky Derby host, but it also has an ideal facility for a large crowd.
In 1988, darkness enveloped the Classic, the traditional program finale, but that won't happen Saturday. Because of television scheduling -- Notre Dame-Navy football follows on NBC -- the Classic is set for 3:35, well before even the worst weather could make viewing as poor as it was when Alysheba beat Seeking the Gold in the 1988 Classic.
But if poor conditions prevail, In Excess would not mind, said Jackson. "He has handled a muddy track, and his last two races have been on off tracks," he said. Nor would most of the European starters mind a soggy turf, as results of Laurel's recent, French-dominated Turf Festival plainly showed.
European horses appear to have excellent chances in the two grass races, which are their traditional strongholds: Dear Doctor, Pistolet Bleu and Pigeon Voyageur are among eight probable Europeans in the Turf, while Priolo and Polar Falcon head six or seven overseas runners who could run in the Mile.
And because no 2-year-old -- colt or filly -- has been dominant this season in the United States, European horses are being given serious chances to win their first Breeders' Cup race on dirt. The best shot would appear to come in the Juvenile, in which the French sensation Arazi might even go off the favorite.
Arazi lost his career debut in France in May but has since won six in a row, including Grade I wins in his last three starts. The Kentucky-bred son of Blushing Groom was expected to arrive last evening on a flight from France.
One of Arazi's American rivals will be Onlooker, trained by 78-year-old Woody Stephens. The Hall of Fame trainer, beset by health problems in recent years, never has won a Breeders' Cup race, and his last Breeders' Cup starter, Forty Niner, finished fourth in the 1988 Classic.
"I'm fine and so is Onlooker," said Stephens.