10/18/2001 11:00PM

BC F/M Turf: Frankel figures Starine has earned shot at crown

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ELMONT, N.Y. - The filly and mare turf division is wide open, and that is not lost on the connections of most of the contenders in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, including Bobby Frankel, who owns and trains Starine.

"Whoever wins this race will be the filly and mare champion," said Frankel. "And she certainly deserves that chance."

Frankel's assertion has history on its side. Both Soaring Softly and Perfect Sting, winners of the first two renewals of the Filly and Mare Turf, won Eclipse Awards.

Starine comes into the Filly and Mare Turf off three strong efforts, including a third-place finish behind likely favorites Lailani and England's Legend in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Handicap and a

5 1/4-length victory in Saratoga's Grade 2 Diana Handicap.

"I was pleased with her performance in the Flower Bowl," said Frankel. "Originally I hadn't planned on running her in the race off such a big effort in the Diana. I was going to train her right up to the Breeders' Cup. But then I decided that with the possibility of bad weather and with so much time between races, I'd run her in the Flower Bowl and get that race out of the way."

Starine rallied from six lengths back into a slow pace and finished just 1 1/2 lengths behind Lailani in the Flower Bowl. That was her first start at the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Filly and Mare Turf.

"She never took a hold of the bit in the Flower Bowl," said Frankel, "either because of the soft turf or my training. But if she runs Saturday the way she did at Saratoga in the Diana, they're not going to beat her."

Frankel said he is training Starine for the Breeders' Cup in much the same manner he prepared her for the Diana. Starine worked five furlongs in 1:01.06 on the main track at Belmont Park on Friday morning. Frankel said he never considered working her Friday over the grass course.

"She doesn't need to do much," said Frankel. "I worked her the other day on the grass and she was very aggressive. I was very pleased with the way she went this morning."

Rider search continues

Trainer John Gosden was still in search of a rider Friday for Crystal Music in the Filly and Mare Turf. Crystal Music is owned by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Gosden called agent Ron Anderson, who represents Jerry Bailey, to see which jockeys were still open for the race. Bailey will be aboard likely favorite Lailani on Saturday.

"John and I are good friends," said Anderson. "I told him I knew both Chris [McCarron] and Kent [Desormeaux] were open for the race, but at this point I'm not sure what he plans to do."

Crystal Music, a 3-year-old filly by Nureyev, comes off a poor effort in the Prix de l'Opera. Gosden says to toss out that race because it came over over a heavy course at Longchamp on Arc day. Crystal Music is winless from four starts this year, although she was a Group 1 winner in England at 2.