10/25/2005 12:00AM

BC Juvenile: European success gives Leo hope


ELMONT, N.Y. - The fact that Europeans have won two of the last four runnings of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile may explain why there are three European-based horses pre-entered for Saturday's 22nd running of the race.

Trainer John Gosden certainly noted the Juvenile victories by Johannesburg (2001) and Wilko (2004) in his decision to ship the English-bred Leo over for Saturday's $1.5 million Juvenile. Ivan Denisovich and Set Alight are the other European-based 2-year-olds in the race.

"It's encouraging to have a go, absolutely, why not?'' said Gosden, who won the 1984 BC Mile with Royal Heroine. "Horses are designed for racing, so run them.''

Like Johannesburg and Wilko, Leo raced exclusively on turf in Europe. Leo has 2 wins and 2 seconds from 6 starts. The two times he finished worse than second came when he caught soft turf. In his most recent start, Leo won the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes at Newmarket on Sept. 25. Palace Episode, the third-place finisher from that race, came back to win the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy Stakes on Oct. 22.

"He has got good action for [dirt], a nice foot for it,'' said Gosden. "He works well on the Polytrack at home; I know that's different than the dirt track.''

Leo arrived in New York on Sunday and Gosden had hoped to work him on Tuesday. Gosden postponed that work until Thursday, but despite the whipping winds and heavy rain that fell here Tuesday, Gosden sent Leo to the Belmont training track. Leo galloped a strong mile over the sloppy surface while following an unraced 3-year-old trained by Christophe Clement.

Leo is a long-legged chestnut who does not look like a 2-year-old. Though Leo will be a longshot, Gosden said he believes there are things to like about him.

"He's a nice, improving horse with plenty of experience,'' Gosden said. "You got to be bold to bring these horses here, but a mile and a sixteenth, not every horse in that Juvenile is going to stay the mile and a sixteenth.

"I would say there's one mighty monster in there," said Gosden, referring to Champagne winner First Samurai.

Gosden trains Leo for the Princess Haya bint al Hussein of Jordan - the wife of Godolphin Racing owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. As of Tuesday morning, Gosden had not finalized a rider for Leo. Jimmy Fortune, who rode him twice in Europe, and Frankie Dettori, who rode him once, are the leading contenders.

* Despite the sloppy conditions Tuesday, Private Vow blew out swiftly through the lane over the main track. Daily Racing Form caught him from the three-furlong marker to the wire in slightly less than 36 seconds. The work was done in the middle of the track, around a set of orange traffic cones that were up to keep horses from training over the inside part of the track.

"We just sped him up through the lane,'' trainer Steve Asmussen said. "We like where he's at. I needed a decent work in him last week. We were fortunate enough to get it in between the weather. His only obstacle is how fast everybody he has to run against is.''