10/26/2007 12:00AM

Argentina gives Frankel upset shot

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. – Five years ago, when the Breeders' Cup was held at the nontraditional setting of Chicago's Arlington Park, trainer Bobby Frankel upset the Filly and Mare Turf with Starine, a 13-1 shot who had not won a race in 11 months.

The race was run over a yielding course, which may have played against the favored Golden Apples, who had spent most of the year racing on firm ground in Southern California. Starine beat a field that included Banks Hill and Islington, the Filly and Mare Turf winners of 2001 and 2003, respectively.

On Saturday, when the Breeders' Cup is held at the nontraditional setting of New Jersey's Monmouth Park, Frankel again will try to upset the Filly and Mare Turf with 12-1 morning-line choice Argentina, who hasn't won a race in two years.

If the forecast proves accurate, the Monmouth turf course could be on the soft side, which could work against favorite Nashoba's Key, an undefeated filly who has raced exclusively in Southern California. Moreover, none of the top European-based fillies or mares are in this 12-horse field.

Though Argentina has lost her last 12 races, she has 5 seconds and 3 thirds, all coming against high-class competition. She has run only twice this year, finishing a good second in the Grade 1 Diana – her first start in nine months – and fifth, beaten by less than two lengths in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl at Belmont.

"She was wide all the way," said Frankel, who will also start probable pacesetter Precious Kitten in this race. "It was only her second start. I think she's on top of a good race. I think she has a legitimate chance."

Addressing the possibility of a soft turf course, Frankel said: "It won't hurt her. It might hurt some of the others."

Most specifically, it would hurt Wait a While and Lahudood. Wait a While, last year's champion 3-year-old filly, so dislikes soft ground that trainer Todd Pletcher is considering scratching should he deem the turf too soft on Saturday.

"I don't like what I'm seeing," Pletcher said at an indoor press conference Wednesday while showers were falling outside. "She's a firm-turf specialist. We'll wait till race day to decide whether it's worth trying turf that's not to her liking or we scratch and maybe go to something else."

Lahudood won the Grade 1 Flower Bowl over firm ground, but finished last of seven in the Grade 1 Beverly D. over "good" turf at Arlington Park. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he is concerned about the weather.

Thus far, nothing has affected Nashoba's Key, who has won all 7 of her starts – 4 on turf and 3 on synthetic surfaces. Nashoba's Key has raced mostly in short fields under ideal course conditions in Southern California.

Trainer Carla Gaines said she is not sure how Nashoba's Key would handle off going. She did say that Nashoba's Key's best race may have been over Del Mar's Polytrack in the Clement Hirsch, which Gaines said was the slowest surface Nashoba's Key had run over all year.

"She had no place to run till late in the race; she had the strongest finish of any horse the whole meet," Gaines said. "She flew home. I feel fairly confident; she's run on everything."

If Pletcher scratches Wait a While, he will still have an excellent chance with Honey Ryder, who finished third in this race last year. Honey Ryder has handled soft ground, and she has run well at Monmouth, finishing second to English Channel in the United Nations here in the summer.

Honey Ryder comes off a sixth-place finish in the Beverly D., though Pletcher thought the slow pace and the 1 3/16-mile distance of the race, three-sixteenths shorter than the Filly and Mare Turf, hurt her. Honey Ryder has won graded stakes over soft turf .

"She'll handle soft turf as long as it's not a bog," Pletcher said. "I look forward to her running as well as she can."

Passage of Time, trained by Henry Cecil, appears to be the best of the four European-based fillies in the field. She was a Group 1 winner at 2 and 3 and is coming off a third-place finish to Mrs. Lindsay in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille. Mrs. Lindsay came back to win last Sunday's E.P. Taylor at Woodbine.

Completing the European contingent are Simply Perfect, a Group 1 winner at Newmarket in July; All My Loving, who just ran third in a stakes at the Curragh last Sunday; and Timarwa, winner of a Group 3 in Ireland last time out. Danzon and Arravale complete the field.