10/12/2005 12:00AM

BC Juv. Fillies: Vella takes turn in spotlight with Knights Templar


As a member of owner Frank Stronach's team for more than a decade, Danny Vella played a significant role in the development of Breeders' Cup winners Awesome Again, Perfect Sting, and Macho Uno for other trainers.

Having parted company with Stronach and become a public trainer, Vella hopes to enjoy some Breeders' Cup success of his own with the promising Knights Templar, who looms an intriguing contender in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.

Knights Templar, a Florida-bred daughter of Exploit, has won 3 of 6 starts. Vella shares a half-interest in the filly with Mark Roberts, Dan Hall, and Jack Brothers. Krista Seltzer also owns 50 percent. That group purchased Knights Templar, a daughter of Exploit, for $80,000 at the 2004 Keeneland September yearling auction.

Knights Templar enters the Juvenile Fillies off a 13 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Mazarine Breeders' Cup at Woodbine on Oct. 1. Her Beyer Speed Figure of 93 is the third highest behind Folklore (99) and Sensation (98) among the likely contenders for the Juvenile Fillies.

Knights Templar won the Mazarine in gate-to-wire fashion, but Vella wasn't necessarily looking for it to happen that way.

"We really didn't want the lead," he said. "Nobody could go with us and we ended up there. Our plan was to not fight her; we were hoping we could settle her in behind the pace for a while. They couldn't keep up with her. Certainly distance is what she's looking for."

Vella said he doesn't feel that cutting back from two turns in the Mazarine to one turn in the Juvenile Fillies at Belmont will be an issue for Knights Templar.

"The only time those one-turn races really hurt you is if you have no speed at all," Vella said. "I don't think that's a problem. Distance isn't a problem, speed isn't a problem."

Vella said he believes the strength of the division is on the East Coast with Folklore, the 14-length winner of the Matron, and Adieu, who won the Grade 1 Frizette and who has beaten Folklore in two of three meetings.

"Folklore and Adieu, they're the two to beat," Vella said. "After that I'm as good as anybody. I certainly didn't see a horse in the Alcibiades or the Oak Leaf that really, really was outstanding."

She Says It Best won the Alcibiades on the lead. Her trainer and part owner, Vickie Foley, understands she will hear that her filly was the beneficiary of a speed-favoring Keeneland surface, but insists that's not how she needs to run. "She does what she has to do," Foley said.

Diamond Omi, the Oak Leaf winner, heads the remainder of the group likely to be pre-entered on Monday. Others include Along the Sea, Ex Caelis, Original Spin, Sensation, and Wild Fit. Rumplestiltskin, trained by Aidan O'Brien, is a possibility.

Mystery Girl and Mia's Reflection are both entered in Saturday's $400,000 My Dear Girl Stakes at Calder. Depending how they fare, either one or both could run back in the Breeders' Cup.

Juvenile Fillies Contenders
2-year-old fillies, 1 1/16 miles. Purse: $1 million.

1AdieuT. Pletcher3-1
Added the Frizette to her resume; defeated Folklore in 2 of 3 meetings
2FolkloreD. W. Lukas7-2
With how she dominated Matron, she could be better than Adieu now
3RumplestiltskinA. O'Brien6-1
Impressed winning a Gr. 1 at Longchamp; a big threat if she comes
4Original SpinA. Mitchell8-1
Liked her professsionalism in her decisive Arl.-Washington Lassie win
5SensationS. Hough10-1
Is 2 for 2 at Belmont, both very fast, and very big wins; intriguing sort
6Wild FitJ. Mullins6-1
Had every chance to win a slow rendition of the Oak Leaf, and didn't
7Diamond OmiB. Baffert10-1
Game in her upset of Wild Fit in the Oak Leaf, but must improve more
8Mystery GirlC. Paasch12-1
Raised her game at Del Mar; must show she can run like that elsewhere
9She Says It BestV. Foley15-1
Rode the Keeneland speed merry-go-round to upset the Alcibiades
10Ex CaelisD. W. Lukas20-1
Needs to improve on seconds in the Alcibiades, and Arl.-Wash. Lassie
The top 10 contenders for each of the eight Breeders' Cup races are ranked by Mike Watchmaker, who set the odds and wrote the comments. Actual Breeders' Cup fields will have up to 14 starters.