10/23/2002 11:00PM

BC Countdown - Juvenile Fillies: Even the favorite has some question marks


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Her regal bloodlines, top-flight connections, and, most importantly, her immense talent will make Storm Flag Flying one of the shortest-priced favorites on Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships card at Arlington Park.

Still, there are several obstacles Storm Flag Flying must overcome before she is able to win the $1 million Juvenile Fillies, and join her mother (My Flag) and grandmother (Personal Ensign) as Breeders' Cup champions.

The Juvenile Fillies field was reduced to 10 Thursday morning when Ivanavinalot, the dominant Florida-bred filly, was scratched because of a temperature and a high blood count.

A product of the mating of Storm Cat and My Flag - the 1995 Juvenile Fillies winner - Storm Flag Flying can be a bit temperamental. How she acts in the cozy Arlington paddock figures to go a long way in determining how she will perform in the race.

When she debuted at Saratoga, Storm Flag Flying froze a couple of times in the paddock, and was difficult for jockey John Velazquez to mount. She raced a bit greenly yet overcame her immaturity and a speed-biased track to win. She acted much better before her victories in the Matron and Frizette at Belmont Park, but the atmosphere was much more subdued than it will be here Saturday.

"Of course I've got a little bit of a concern, but I think we'll be fine," trainer Shug McGaughey said Thursday morning before putting Storm Flag Flying on a Chicago-bound plane. "Today is the biggest thing, just getting her shipped."

The second obstacle Storm Flag Flying will face is running nine furlongs and around two turns for the first time. To date, the farthest she has run is 1 1/16 miles around one turn.

"I'm at the point where if she goes over there and runs her race there's not much more I can do about it," said McGaughey, who seeks his first Cup win since 1995 and eighth overall. "I hope we get a good, clean break and a decent trip and I think we'll be good enough. Having a horse on the outside of her will help her get around the turn without a problem, and I certainly don't think the distance will be a problem."

Perhaps the best thing Storm Flag Flying has going for her is the ability to put herself in the race from the start. She figures to take up a stalking position under Velazquez outside likely pacesetters Humorous Lady, Atlantic Ocean, and Buffythecenterfold.

If there is to be an upset, it will likely come from the Bob Baffert barn. Though Baffert will send out three horses in the race, the two with the best chance are Composure, the Oak Leaf winner, and Santa Catarina, who finished second behind Storm Flag Flying in the Frizette.

Composure, a daughter of Touch Gold, has improved dramatically since being stretched around two turns. If she takes another step forward, she figures to be extremely tough under Mike Smith from post 3.

Jerry Bailey will ride Santa Catarina from the rail. Though she set the pace in the Frizette, Bailey believes Santa Catarina could be more effective from off the pace.

"She'll actually like the one hole," Baffert said. "She's erratic, she likes to lug in and being on the rail when she works so at least she'll find herself there immediately," Baffert said.

Westerly Breeze was an upset winner of the Grade 2 Walmac Alcibiades International at Keeneland. The way she has trained since then has trainer Carl Nafzger feeling somewhat confident going into the race

"She might not be the best filly in America," Nafzger said. "But they better not mess up, because she might be."

Appleby Gardens, Buffythecenterfold, Ruby's Reception, and Sea Jewel complete the field.