08/09/2006 11:00PM

Division leaders duke it out in Beverly D.

Beth Rutzebeck / Canterbury Park
English Channel's trainer, Todd Pletcher, also has Honey Ryder for the Beverly D.

ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - The gang's all here - or at least its leaders are.

Arguably the three best filly-mare turf horses in training in North America will converge at Arlington Park on Saturday for the Grade 1, $750,000 , making the race easily the most important in the division so far this year.

Honey Ryder, Film Maker, and Gorella are the principals in a terrific field of 11 in the 17th running of the Beverly D., which leads off the annual International Festival of Racing as the eighth of 12 Saturday races.

Of the favored trio, Honey Ryder (post 6) has accomplished the most this year. She has reeled off consecutive victories in the Orchid, Sheepshead Bay, and Robert Dick handicaps coming into the Beverly D. Perhaps the biggest question about her chances revolve around distance, since she has been running primarily in races longer than the 1 3/16 miles of the Beverly D.

"That's my biggest concern, cutting her back in distance," said Todd Pletcher, who trains Honey Ryder for the Glencrest Farm of John and David Greathouse. "I really think she's best at 1 3/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles."

Pletcher concedes that Honey Ryder might be at the mercy of a pace scenario that appears a bit murky on paper. There is no confirmed front-runner in the bunch, although the logical candidates to inherit the lead include Sharp Lisa, Chic Dancer, Wend, and Rich in Spirit. Honey Ryder, with John Velazquez to ride, likely will try to lay just close enough to pounce when the real running begins.

"She's easy to cover up," said Pletcher. "We got her back and covered up through pedestrian fractions last time [in the Dick Handicap], and I don't think they can go any slower than that Saturday."

Film Maker (post 11), owned by the Courtlandt Farm of Donald Adam, has raced just once this year, easily winning the June 24 All Along at Colonial Downs to signal that this may be her breakthrough year. A 6-year-old mare by Dynaformer, Film Maker finished second in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and third in the 2005 running.

"We talked about retiring her after last season, but I told Mr. Adam I thought this could be a really great year for her," said trainer Graham Motion. "She's finished well in the Breeders' Cup the last two years, and that's not too shabby.

"This is a great race Saturday," said Motion. "I think it's fantastic that three of the marquee fillies in the division will all be there in Chicago. It would be hard to get a better field than this, short of the Breeders' Cup."

The Breeders' Cup will be run Nov. 4 at Churchill Downs.

Gorella (post 1) is a French import owned by Martin Schwartz and trained by Patrick Biancone, who teamed to win the Beverly D. last year with Angara. A stretch-runner with a sensational turn of foot, Gorella will attempt a distance beyond 1 1/8 miles for the first time Saturday, when she attempts to duplicate the efforts that carried her to a third-place finish against males in the BC Mile last fall and, most recently, a last-gasp victory in the Just a Game BC on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

Among the outsiders, perhaps Wend (post 5) rates the best chance, although she will have to revert to the form that made her one of America's top filly-mare turf prospects at this time last year. Wend brought a five-race win streak into the 2005 Beverly D. but wound up sixth after a troubled trip. Since then, she has won just twice in six starts. As for the way the mare has slumped, trainer Bill Mott said: "I've been a little baffled."

Of the others, all longshots, Sharp Lisa (post 2), Live Life (post 7), and Royal Copenhagen (post 9) will carry the collective banner for the California circuit, which early in Beverly D. history swept five straight runnings, from 1989 to 1993, but has been noticeably dry recently.

The rest of the Beverly D. field includes the lone European ship-in, Rising Cross (post 4), along with Chic Dancer (post 3), Minge Cove (post 8), and Rich in Spirit (post 10).

The Beverly D. will be part of a two-hour ABC broadcast from 3-5 p.m. Central on Saturday.

The field

Beverly D.
Purse: $750,000; 1 3/16 miles, turf; Grade 1

1GorellaJ. Leparoux1235-2
2Sharp LisaE. Prado12312-1
3Chic DancerC. Emigh12320-1
4Rising CrossM. Dwyer11715-1
5WendG. Gomez12310-1
6Honey RyderJ. Velazquez1233-1
7Live LifeV. Espinoza12310-1
8Minge CoveS. Bridgmohan12330-1
9Royal CopenhagenR. Douglas12320-1
10Rich in SpiritM. Guidry12312-1
11Film MakerR. Dominguez1234-1

* Track odds
* Television: Saturday, 4-6 p.m. (Eastern), ABC