10/23/2002 11:00PM

BC Countdown - F&M Turf: Even on wowsa card, this race stands out

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - It's a little misleading to bill the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf as a battle between Europeans and Americans, since 10 of the 12 horses in the race were Europeans at one time or another.

But there are European expatriates like Golden Apples, and then there are European invaders like Banks Hill, and a rematch between these two alone gives the Filly and Mare Turf special cachet even on a blockbuster Breeders' Cup program.

And there is more. Recent transatlantic arrivals like Islington, Kazzia, and Turtle Bow, and other Europeans with established American form like Dublino and Starine make the Filly and Mare Turf an exceptionally deep and contentious race.

With four supplemental fees of $70,000 going into the pot, the Filly and Mare Turf is worth $1.28 million this year. The race is contested at 1 1/4 miles on a grass course that, if the weather forecast for moderate precipitation holds, should be rated good to firm. Starine, Gossamer, Riskaverse, and Owsley would move up if the course becomes softer. Top contenders Banks Hill, Golden Apples, and Islington prefer it firm. Banks Hill, defending champion in the race, would be scratched if the course becomes too soft.

The race begins on the end of the far turn, giving the horses the entire stretch to find position before the first full turn. Still, stalkers with outside posts, like Starine, have some cause for concern. "If they go slow, it can be tough to tuck in sometimes," said Starine's trainer Bobby Frankel.

But they probably won't go slow. The Canadian-based Chopinina, second in the Atto Mile, has exceptional speed and should set a lively tempo, with Kazzia, Golden Apples, and others not far behind.

The question looming over the race is what to expect from Banks Hill. Her performance winning the Filly and Mare Turf at Belmont Park last year was overpowering, and up until a month ago she would have come into this year's race as a strong favorite. Racing in France for trainer Andre Fabre this season, Banks Hill won only once but did nothing to erode her reputation, running strongly in Group 1 races against males. Early last month, she was beaten only a half-length by European superstar Rock of Gibraltar.

But then came her trip overseas. She first went to New York, but scratched from the Flower Bowl because of soft turf. Then came a cross-country flight to California in search of firm going and the warm air Banks Hill prefers. She found both, but after being blocked for a crucial furlong, Banks Hill checked in third in the Oct. 5 Yellow Ribbon.

Now she has shipped again, to Arlington, and her schedule combined with the recent loss has spawned a growing group of skeptics. Her connections are not among them.

"She seems to like all the flying, really," said Dr. John Chandler, racing manager for owner Juddmonte Farms. "That shouldn't bother her at all."

Chandler firmly believes Banks Hill is "as good as she's ever been," a feeling echoed by Frankel, in whose name Banks Hill starts for the first time.

"She seems to be doing great," Frankel said Wednesday morning after watching Banks Hill train over the Arlington track.

But she and jockey Jerry Bailey must deal again with Golden Apples, who has run through physical problems this year and emerged on top of her game. The likely favorite, Golden Apples already has won the Beverly D. at 1 1/4 miles over Arlington's course, and she will try to give jockey Pat Valenzuela his first Breeders' Cup win since 1992.