09/30/2001 11:00PM

Europeans could dominate on Championships day


NEW YORK - Impressions of a busy stakes weekend:

Lailani's victory in Saturday's Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park was all the evidence anyone needed to conclude that if the Europeans send over any more like her for the World Thoroughbred Championships, it will be us chasing them.

Just to drive the point home, Europeans were one-two-three under the line in Sunday's Canadian International at Woodbine. So give the Euros the advantage in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, in which Lailani will start next, as well as the Breeders' Cup Turf and the Breeders' Cup Mile.

All season long, the turf divisions of both sexes in this country have been unusually thin. And now Bienamado, this country's ranking turf male, is out for the year.

Lailani, who came from England on a six-race winning streak, faced two of our very best female turf runners in the Flower Bowl - England's Legend and Starine - and left no doubt that they just weren't good enough. England's Legend cruised on an uncontested lead though comfortable fractions, yet she was powerless to resist Lailani in the final furlong.

In fairness to Starine, the pace did not help her. She did gain three lengths in the final quarter-mile, but a final quarter in 25.17 seconds certainly helped her do that. At the Flower Bowl's 1 1/4-mile distance, Starine lacked the powerful stretch kick she employed to win Saratoga's 1 1/8-mile Diana. And the Flower Bowl and the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf are the same distance.

There were no European males as good as Lailani in Saturday's Turf Classic at Belmont, or in Sunday's Clement Hirsch Memorial at Santa Anita, but those races still showed that the Turf on Oct. 27 is ripe for the plucking by a stranger.

Sure, a case could be made that Timboroa, who won the Turf Classic by three over King Cugat, is improved. This was his second consecutive win after taking the Del Mar Handicap in late August. But it's hard to know for sure, since he got a huge base on balls by controlling the pace through incredibly slow fractions of 50.99 seconds, 1:16.54, and 1:41.39.

King Cugat, 3-5 in the Turf Classic because he has been the best turf horse in the East this year, was taken out of his game Saturday by the slow pace. Instead of making his customary late run, he had to move much earlier than he prefers, and that left him empty for the last quarter-mile. Nevertheless, the Turf Classic proved that circumstances can adversely effect King Cugat, especially at 1 1/2 miles, which is the absolute edge of his effectiveness.

Senure won the bizarrely run Hirsch; Penamacor threw the race completely out of whack sprinting off to what looked like at least a 15-length lead down the backstretch. Trainer Bobby Frankel, who also trains Timboroa, had announced to the world that Senure had to win to be Breeders' Cup-bound. Sorry, but even the people who love Senure the most don't exactly seem to be dripping with confidence.

There was a considerable European presence in the Canadian International, but even though Mutamam, Paolini, and Zindabad - the first three to finish - are all useful horses overseas, none of them is going to make anyone forget Ribot. You just know that there are better ones over there, whose connections are encouraged by the results they see.

At this point, Galileo and Fantastic Light, the two best horses in Europe, are still intended for the Breeders' Cup Classic. It wouldn't be much of a surprise, however, to see one of them shift gears at the last minute and opt for the Turf. If that happens, either would be a lead pipe cinch.

Gander won on the up-and-up

A lot of people who were in East Rutherford, N.J., on Friday night thought they were witness to a theft of the winner's share of the $500,000 Meadowlands Cup by John Velazquez on Gander. They did enjoy a soft early lead, but after reviewing the evidence, no charges will be filed. To say Velazquez stole the Cup wouldn't be fair to Gander, because Gander was hooked in upper stretch by both the even-money Include and the 6-5 Broken Vow, and he simply outgutted them both to the wire.

This was not a surprise in the case of Broken Vow, who often looks like a big-time horse when the competition is lacking, but is just as often found wanting when the going gets tougher.

Include's race was a tougher read. He had been sidelined since July 1 because of injury and, being farther off the early pace than Broken Vow, he was more compromised by the slow pace. On the other hand, I think Include actually poked a nose in front in midstretch, and when a horse who was good enough to beat Albert the Great in the Pimlico Special last May does that, he is supposed to win. Instead, Include gave ground in the late stages.

Maybe Essence of Dubai didn't run his race when he ran third in the Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar. We do know that Essence of Dubai romped in Saturday's Norfolk Stakes at Santa Anita. But since the hole on the rail at the top of the stretch that Essence of Dubai charged through offered enough real estate to build a couple of small homes, the really big winner out of the Norfolk was a colt who wasn't even there. That, of course, is Officer, who beat Essence of Dubai by 10 1/2 lengths in the Best Pal. I'm very eager to see what Officer does at Belmont Saturday in the Champagne.