09/29/2002 11:00PM

Exit one star, enter another


ELMONT, N.Y. - A star for a star.

Disappointment ran high at Belmont Park on Saturday when soft ground prompted the declaration of the magnificent Banks Hill from the $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational for fillies and mares.

A smashing winner in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf last fall, Banks Hill showed even better form in Europe this summer, competing against male stars. Rock of Gibraltar, winner of seven consecutive stakes, was all out to beat her half a length in a Group 1 at Longchamp.

Everyone wanted to see her tune up for the 2002 World Thoroughbred Championships at Arlington Park, but she has such beautiful action on firm turf that trainer Andre Fabre and the filly's connections weren't willing to take a chance on soft ground.

Enter Kazzia. After winning the classic 1000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks this summer, she was hardly an unknown in the competitive Flower Bowl field. But she wasn't accorded the respect she deserved and was sent off second choice to England's Legend, who was second in last fall's Flower Bowl and third in this year's Beverly D. at Arlington.

The 3-year-old Kazzia, who came to the Flower Bowl with a record of four wins from five starts, electrified the crowd by sprinting to the lead out of the gate in a manner rarely shown by horses trained in Europe. She made all the pace, such as it was - the first half-mile in 49.77 seconds - and England's Legend, who was right with her to the head of the stretch, began to retire. Kazzia continued on strongly to win from another 3-year-old filly from Europe, Turtle Bow.

Kazzia's natural speed, her ability to stay a distance that she demonstrated in the Oaks, and her knack of handling ground with some give would seem to make her a solid prospect for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf. She is resourceful and capable of meeting challenges, as her record shows. Her only loss came in the Yorkshire Oaks.

After the Epsom Oaks victory, she developed an abscess in one foot and missed some training she probably needed. Her looming confrontation with Banks Hill at Arlington may be one of the highlights of the Breeders' Cup races.

Like Kazzia in the Flower Bowl, Evening Attire received little respect here as he bid for a Breeders' Cup Classic berth in the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup. A 4-year-old gelding by Black Tie Affair, Evening Attire won the Saratoga Breeders' Cup Handicap in businesslike fashion but was lightly regarded at 9-1 with Repent favored at 8-5 off an excellent second in the Travers. Lido Palace, the Woodward winner, was second choice at 3-1.

Harlan's Holiday and Abreeze made the early pace while Shaun Bridgmohan had Evening Attire well off the pace. As Abreeze, Harlan's Holiday, and Lido Palace battled in the stretch, Evening Attire, angled off the rail for racing room and closed fastest of all to to prevail by almost three lengths

Pat Kelly trains Evening Attire for the partnership of his father, Hall of Fame horseman Tom Kelly, and Joseph and Mary Grant, friends of many years standing. Since he began racing a distance of ground last fall, Evening Attire has improved steadily. The Jockey Club Gold Cup is his best performance to date but the lanky, laid-back Evening Attire appears to have room for more improvement.

No decision has been formally announced as yet on his Breeders' Cup Classic status but there is every indication he is a probable starter.

Lido Palace ran well to be second but not good enough, we would think, to warrant an $800,000 supplementary payment to make him eligible for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Lido Palace wasn't able to come through for Bobby Frankel but the Hall of Fame trainer continued his remarkable string of successes Sunday when Denon captured the $750,000 Turf Classic, sending his career earnings past the $1 million mark.

Denon, a 4-year-old colt by Pleasant Colony, finished a close second to With Anticipation in Monmouth's United Nations and Saratoga's Sword Dancer handicaps. He was well back in the early stages of the Turf Classic but accelerated through the upper stretch and edged Blazing Fury.

Hoping to have a relatively fresh horse for the Breeders' Cup Turf, Frankel has been easy with Denon in recent weeks. He feels the Turf Classic experience will provide the springboard to move him forward to the Oct. 26 goal.