10/21/2004 11:00PM

All signs point to Punctilious


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The high strike rate of European-based 3-year-old fillies in the E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine has been well documented, with 17 of the last 22 winners fitting that profile.

There are three such candidates for Sunday's Grade 1, $750,000 Taylor, with Punctilious, from England, and the French fillies Asti and Ometsz among a very competitive field of 10 for the 1 1/4-mile turf feature for fillies and mares.

The favorite should be Punctilious, with her high-profile connections of Godolphin Racing, trainer Saaed bin Suroor, and Frankie Dettori adding to her allure.

Punctilious also rates highly on form, based on her win in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes and her second-place finish to the Breeders' Cup-bound Ouija Board in the Group 1 Irish Oaks.

"She's in good shape," said assistant trainer Tony Howarth. "She's fresh and well."

Punctilious last raced on Aug. 18 in the Grade 1 Yorkshire Oaks, where she finished a distant fourth over soft going, which she did not handle.

Asti, trained by Elie Lelouche, also figures to be well supported after finishing a close fourth when facing males in a Group 2 race for 3-year-olds and upward over one mile at Longchamp on Oct. 2.

Asti also finished a bang-up second in the Group 1, 1 1/4-mile Prix St. Alary at Longchamp this May, with Ometsz 2 1/4 lengths back in fifth after experiencing traffic problems.

"She was very unlucky," said trainer Rodolphe Collet, referring to Ometsz. Collet sent out Tigertail, who finished second in last year's Taylor.

Ometsz also finished behind Asti in the Prix de Diane, but then was freshened and returned with victories in listed races on Aug. 5 and Sept. 5.

"She's been prepared for this race for a long time," said Collet. "The distance should be quite okay for her, and the going doesn't matter."

Punctilious and Ometsz both race with Lasix for the first time, which also has been part of the successful European angle here.

Commercante and Dimitrova, the two U.S. invaders for the Taylor, merit respect based on their connections and the company they have been keeping.

Bobby Frankel trains Commercante, a 4-year-old filly who is coming off a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont.

Dimitrova, trained by Neil Drysdale, won the Flower Bowl last year and two weeks ago was fourth in the Grade 2 WinStar Galaxy at Keeneland.

Samando, a 4-year-old filly based in Europe, also merits a long look based on her recent Group 2 victory in the Prix de Royaleux at Longchamp. She also races with Lasix for the first time.

The four-horse local contingent for the Taylor also is deep, with Classic Stamp, Inish Glora, Mona Rose, and Heyahohowdy all having won turf stakes this year.

Classic Stamp rallied smartly to win the 1 1/8-mile Canadian Handicap last time out, with Inish Glora second and Heyahohowdy third, and appears to have the best chance of keeping the Taylor trophy at Woodbine.