08/12/2003 11:00PM

Dublino tries to enter Eclipse hunt

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ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Eclipse Award voters found themselves in a quandary after Starine surfaced from relative obscurity last fall to win the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Arlington Park. Ultimately, voters gave the divisional championship to Golden Apples, whose victory in the Beverly D. was a crucial factor.

This year, with the filly-mare turf division again up for grabs, the Beverly D. could again be huge.

"It's such a pivotal race in the championship," said trainer Laura de Seroux, who will saddle Dublino in the $700,000 Beverly D. here Saturday. "It's very conceivable that you could have the same kind of result as last year. If the Breeders' Cup winner is a European filly, or an outsider like Starine was, then it's only reasonable to fall back on some of the earlier races. The Beverly D. obviously is one of the more important ones."

Dublino, owned by a partnership that includes de Seroux, has been a strong and consistent player within the division. After winning the Grade 3 Wilshire at Hollywood in her first start since a 10th-place finish behind Starine in the Breeders' Cup, Dublino has finished second in three straight major stakes in Southern California. Those three races were won by horses who also remain major contenders in the division: Tates Creek (Grade 1 Gamely), Voodoo Dancer (Grade 2 Beverly Hills), and Megahertz (Grade 1 Mabee).

Because Dublino needs a win in a major stakes to have a chance at the Eclipse, de Seroux felt compelled to run in the Beverly D.

"If we had won just one of those, we'd be in a lot better shape, and we might have thought about not coming here," said de Seroux. "As well as the filly came out of the Mabee, I thought we just couldn't afford to pass up this race. If she runs the way I think she will, then we could go to the top of the division."

Going into the Beverly D., the tenuous leader atop the division probably is Voodoo Dancer, whom trainer Christophe Clement declared from consideration for the Beverly D. on Wednesday.

The Beverly D. figures to be closely contested, with the eventual winner quite possibly being the horse with the best trip.

"He who comes last often is the victor in these races," said de Seroux. "Tactics are so critical in these grass races. I really believe Dublino would have won the Beverly Hills with different tactics. We went to the lead prematurely, and Voodoo Dancer was able to run us down late."

Dublino, a Kentucky-bred 4-year-old by Lear Fan, made a name for herself last summer by finishing first (although she was disqualified) in her U.S. debut, the American Oaks, then winning the Del Mar Oaks. She began her career with two races in France for trainer Andre Fabre, but after one of the ownership partners with European ties was bought out, the group decided to bring her home. The remaining partners are Robert Geringer, Michael Klein, and Marsha Naify.

"We've had a wonderful time with her so far," de Seroux said.

Regardless of whether Dublino wins Saturday, she still will exist in the shadow of one of the best fillies or mares to come along in years: Azeri, the 2002 Horse of the Year, trained by de Seroux for the Allen Paulson Living Trust.

"Dublino is overshadowed by Azeri because Azeri overshadows everything," said de Seroux. "None of my other owners really seem to mind. Azeri has become a source of pride for everyone with even the slightest connection to her."

Because Azeri remains the unquestioned leader of the filly-mare dirt division, her status provides a stark contrast to the divisional scramble in which Dublino finds herself. In any case, de Seroux is relieved that her best filly this side of Azeri is a grass horse.

"It's a good thing that they're in different divisions," she said. "The turf division is so evenly matched that the Beverly D. shapes up as just a huge race. It's why we're here."