10/02/2007 11:00PM

European contingent still uncertain

EmailWith the last two major prep races scheduled for this weekend - the Oak Tree Mile on Sunday in California, and the Shadwell Turf Mile on Saturday in Kentucky - one might suppose the Breeders' Cup Mile later this month in New Jersey might be coming into sharper focus. It's not - not yet, at least.

Both Trippi's Storm and After Market, the one-two finishers in the Kelso Handicap last Saturday at Belmont, could wind up in the Breeders' Cup, but the real question is who's coming from across the pond.

Ramonti, a Godolphin horse, captured the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup last Saturday at Ascot, but Simon Crisford, a Godolphin spokesman, told England's Racing Post on Sunday that a longer race was "the preferred option" for Ramonti's next start. Crisford mentioned a 10-furlong stakes in Hong Kong, though the BC Mile is still a consideration.

The excellent French filly Darjina was off the board in the QE II, while Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien, who has a bevy of Mile possibilities, finished second and third with Excellent Art and Duke of Marmalade. O'Brien also has George Washington, third behind Darjina and Ramonti last out in France, waiting in the wings.

Still another O'Brien miler, Astronomer Royal, was one of nine horses entered in Saturday's Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland. Astronomer Royal was seventh last out in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, but did win the French 2000 Guineas in May. He finished third behind Excellent Art and Duke of Marmalade in the St. James's Palace Stakes in June.

Shakis, Istan, Excellent Art, and Cosmonaut also figure to be serious players at Keeneland, while the Oak Tree Mile at Santa Anita marks the return to turf of Lava Man. His main rivals on Sunday figure to be Out of Control, Surf Cat, and Get Funky.

After Market has shipped back to California after his closing second to Trippi's Storm in the Kelso, an effort trainer John Shirreffs termed "exceptional." After Market, who has won over a distance as far as 11 furlongs, and was turning back to a mile last Saturday, also would be considered for the Breeders' Cup Turf at 12 furlongs, according to Shirreffs.

"He has that flexibility where he can go a mile or a mile and a half," Shirreffs said.