10/01/2008 12:00AM

Ascot's Queen Elizabeth likely to be a key race

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Yes, the Breeders' Cup Mile will be contested over the Santa Anita grass course in Southern California this year. But the major prep race for the BC Mile takes place this weekend about 5,430 miles east of Arcadia, Calif.

Saturday's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in England probably will be the definitive BC Mile prep of the season, and could produce as many as three major contenders. Chief among them is Tamayuz, who has won 5 of 6 career starts and emerged as Europe's top miler this summer, rebounding from a ninth-place finish May 11 in the French 2000 Guineas to win two major mile stakes.

Tamayuz goes into the Queen Elizabeth - a Win and You're In race for the Mile - a narrow favorite over the Aidan O'Brien-trained Henrythenavigator, who could come to Santa Anita for either the Mile or the Classic. Henrythenavigator was knocked from his perch as Europe's leading miler earlier this month in France when he finished fifth in the Prix du Moulin behind Goldikova, who, like Tamayuz, is trained by Freddie Head.

Head said Wednesday that Goldikova would start next in a Breeders' Cup race, either the Mile or the Filly and Mare Turf. A final decision on Tamayuz's status for the Mile will have to wait until next week, but Head has indicated for some time that the Breeders' Cup is on his agenda.

"We'll see what he does Saturday, and then we'll decide with [owner] Sheikh Hamdan [al Maktoum] what he wants to do," said Head. "I think he wants to go."

This marks Head's 10th year as a trainer, and he is having his best season. Head has never saddled a horse in a Breeders' Cup race, but he was in the saddle for 10 of them during his career as a jockey. Head's two Breeders' Cup wins, in fact, came in the Mile, with Miesque in 1987 and 1988.

Tamayuz has not yet reached Miesque status, but he is on his way. A 3-year-old English-bred by Nayef, Tamayuz won the Prix Jean Prat over 15 rivals by 1 1/2 lengths in July, and in his most recent outing, on Aug. 17, he won the prestigious Prix Jacques le Marois by 2 1/2 lengths. Tamayuz has shown good cruising speed and a blistering finish, and Head said he believes he would be suited by American racing.

"He's very easy about everything," Head said. "He has speed, he can take any place in a race, and he's a very handy horse. He's never shipped very far before, but he travels well."

Also entered in the Queen Elizabeth is Raven's Pass, who is targeting the BC Mile to the extent that trainer John Gosden has indicated that the QE II will serve as no more than a prep for the Breeders' Cup.

Meanwhile, the list of world-class turf milers in North America looks short indeed at this juncture, with the two Mile preps on Sunday - the Kelso at Belmont, and the Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita - filled with horses generally unproven at the highest class. Sitting out those prep races are California's leading middle-distance turf horse, Whatsthescript, and the defending BC Mile champ, Kip Deville.

Kip Deville will try to repeat in the Mile after finishing fifth as the 1-2 favorite in the Sept. 7 Woodbine Mile. Kip Deville has worked back five furlongs on dirt since the race, and trainer Rick Dutrow remains bullish on Kip Deville's form.

"He came out of his race good," Dutrow said Tuesday. "I don't know what happened to him that day."

Dutrow said he planned to keep Kip Deville on a once-every-six-days work schedule training into the Mile. Kip Deville will ship to Santa Anita, where he won the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile in 2007, "three or four days" before his race, Dutrow said.

Trainer Bobby Frankel said this week that both the filly Ventura, who finished second in the Woodbine Mile, and Proudinsky, second to Big Brown in the Monmouth Stakes, are under consideration for the BC Mile.