10/07/2003 11:00PM

European presence strongest in race's short history


European runners have captured just one of the four previous renewals of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. Banks Hill's win at Belmont Park in 2001 is the only victory by a European since the race was added to the Breeders' Cup program in 1999.

But the European contingent figures to be an imposing force in this year's edition of the Filly and Mare Turf. Dimitrova and Mezzo Soprano are confirmed starters for the race. Yesterday and Bright Sky all but sewed up their spots with solid efforts in last Sunday's Prix de l'Opera at Longchamp. Nebraska Tornado, owned by Juddmonte Farms, remains a candidate to join U.S.-based stablemates Tates Creek and Heat Haze in the race, while Islington, perhaps the most formidable of all the Europeans, has not been ruled out completely as a starter.

Dimitrova stamped herself as one of the leading contenders with her victory in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Handicap. Dimitrova began her career for trainer Dermot Weld in Ireland, where she finished third, beaten less than a length by Yesterday, in the Irish 1000 Guineas earlier this year.

Mezzo Soprano has won her last two starts, including the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at Longchamp, where she outgamed Yesterday for a head victory. She shipped from England to trainer Tom Albertrani's barn at Belmont last week to begin final preparations for the Breeders' Cup.

Yesterday has had a successful yet frustrating 3-year-old campaign. She came out on the short end of a close decision for the third time in her last four starts when she finished second behind longshot Zee Zee Top in the Prix de l'Opera on last Sunday's Arc card.

Bright Sky looked as though she might successfully defend her Prix de l'Opera title when she drew clear in late stretch, but she grew weary over the boggy ground and finished a close third. Bright Sky will be cross-entered in both the Filly and Mare Turf and the Mile but is expected to stay with her own sex on Breeders' Cup Day.

Dr. John Chandler, American racing manager for Juddmonte Farms, said a decision on Nebraska Tornado's status will not be made until next week. Chandler said trainer Bobby Frankel "wants to run both his fillies" - the Juddmonte-owned Heat Haze and Tates Creek - "and it's a bit over the top to have three runners in the race."

France-based trainer Andre Fabre, said Chandler "thinks Nebraska Tornado is a very special filly. We've been foreseeing this problem for a long time."

The United States team for the race grew over the past weekend following Bien Nicole's sensational 7 1/4-length victory in Sunday's WinStar Galaxy Stakes at Keeneland.

A field of 10 is expected for Friday's Grade 2 Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Keeneland, the final major prep for the Filly and Mare Turf. Among the potential starters are Casual Look, Indy Five Hundred, Maiden Tower, and Spoken Fur.