05/16/2002 11:00PM

Banks Hill set for 4-y-o debut


Banks Hill has frightened away most of the opposition from her eagerly anticipated 4-year-old debut in the Prix d'Ispahan at Longchamp on Sunday.

The overpowering winner of the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf will face just three rivals in the Group 1 contest, which will be run at a distance of 1850 meters, or 1 1-/8 miles, 55 yards. Among the defectors in recent days has been Rebelline, the filly who ended Johannesburg's unbeaten record in the Gladness Stakes.

The three who will take up the cudgels against the Andre Fabre-trained daughter of Danehill are Best Of The Bests, Execute and Poussin.

Best Of The Bests is returning from another so-so season for Godolphin on the Nad Al Sheba dirt where he won the Group 3 Maktoum Challenge-Round 2 but was up the track for the second year running in the Dubai World Cup. Even his best turf form, a close third to Giant's Causeway in the Irish Champion Stakes two years ago, will not be enough to defeat Banks Hill, who will have regular rider Olivier Peslier aboard.

Execute poses a more serious threat. The John Hammond-trained son of Suave Dancer was just half a length behind another excellent French filly, Aquarelliste, in the Group 1 Prix Ganay three weeks ago. He had previously beaten Poussin by a length into third place in the Group 2 Prix d'Harcourt.

Poised for an assault on the world's most important 1 1/4-mile races this year, Banks Hill should add her name to those of Allez France, Miesque and Indian Skimmer as distaff winners of the Prix d'Ispahan.

On the same card, Ana Marie, Bright Sky and Mariensky, the first three home in the Group 3 Prix Vanteaux, renew rivalry in the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary, the ultimate prep for the French Oaks on June 9. There is little to choose between the first two, who were separated by just a head in the Vanteaux. They should be fighting it out again this time as well.

On Monday at Saint-Cloud, the progressive Califet, sharp winner of the Group 3 Prix d'Hedouville on April 18, should once again take the measure of Ange Gabriel in the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Prix Jean de Chaudenay. At Cologne, Dupont, the Bill Haggas-trained winner of the Italian 2000 Guineas, will attempt a classic double in the Group 2 Mehl-Mulhens-Rennen, aka the German 2000 Guineas.