10/21/2002 11:00PM

BC Countdown - Distaff: Godolphin seeks fourth Cup win

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Godolphin Racing's quest to win the Kentucky Derby, chronicled in great detail the last four springs, has been single-minded, and, thus far, unsuccessful. The perception might be that Godolphin has spent less effort aiming for the Breeders' Cup, but, in fact, Godolphin has had great success in this championship event.

Godolphin, since its formation in 1994, has had 26 runners in the Breeders' Cup, and has won three races, including two last year. Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum of Dubai, who oversees Godolphin, has run another 21 horses in his own name, two more under the banner of his Darley Stud Management, and five more in partnerships, producing three more victories.

This year, however, Godolphin has scaled back. By stopping early with its North American-based 2-year-olds, Godolphin is bypassing the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies. After running eight horses at Belmont Park last year, Godolphin will have just three runners on Saturday at Arlington Park.

Godolphin's best chance on Saturday may rest with the filly Imperial Gesture. She raced in the shadow of Tempera, her ill-fated champion stablemate, last year at age 2, when they ran one-two in the Juvenile Fillies. This year, Imperial Gesture has developed into a leading contender for an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly. She will run in the day's first Breeders' Cup race, the $2 million Distaff.

Imperial Gesture has won 5 of 6 starts this year, and comes off consecutive victories in the Gazelle Handicap and Beldame Stakes, both Grade 1 events at Belmont Park. She completed her preparation for the Distaff on Tuesday morning at Belmont Park, when she breezed five furlongs in 1:03.53 with exercise rider Lee Roebuck aboard.

Saeed bin Suroor, who is the head trainer for Godolphin, flew in from Newmarket, England, in time to see the workout.

"Imperial Gesture is a very good filly. When she was in Dubai this winter, I preferred her more than Tempera," Suroor said. "She looks to me like she's really ready. I like the way she finished this morning. I'm very pleased with her. It's a very tough race, but I think she has the class to win the race."

Tom Albertrani, the New York-based assistant to Suroor, said Imperial Gesture was "on top of her game."

"She broke off a little slow, but she finished up real good," Albertrani said. "She finished the last quarter in 24 seconds. It was a nice move for her. She's better going into this race than the Beldame."

Imperial Gesture is scheduled to be flown to Chicago on Thursday. Summer Colony, who is at Belmont Park, and Take Charge Lady, who has been training at Churchill Downs, also are scheduled to arrive here that day.

Azeri, the likely favorite for the Distaff, as well as Farda Amiga and Starrer all arrived at Arlington on Tuesday after a flight from Southern California.

Mandy's Gold, who finished second to Imperial Gesture in the Beldame, got a chance to train at Arlington on Tuesday. She arrived in the middle of the night early Monday morning, and merely walked the barn's shed row Monday.

Mandy's Gold has raced 11 times this year, and has traveled repeatedly from her base at Delaware Park, but she has held up well. Her chestnut coat was gleaming Tuesday morning. "She settled in like she never went anywhere," said her trainer, Michael Gorham. "She's used to it."

- additional reporting by David Grening