10/21/2001 11:00PM

F & M Turf: Fillies are dancing the continental


ELMONT, N.Y. - The Breeders' Cup turf races have always had a strong European flavor, but this year's Filly and Mare Turf has an even stronger Euro-flavor than usual. Eight of the 12 starters began their careers across the Atlantic, including a quartet of 3-year-old fillies who were not scheduled to arrive in the U.S. until Tuesday.

Banks Hill, Spring Oak, Mot Juste, and Crystal Music all completed their final preparations for the World Thoroughbred Championship in Britain and France. The English-bred Lailani, who will be the likely favorite in the Filly and Mare Turf, shipped here well in advance of the Breeders' Cup and made a smashing U.S. debut by winning the Grade 1 Flower Bowl here on Sept. 29.

Kentucky-breds Soaring Softly and Perfect Sting won the first two editions of the Filly and Mare Turf but, barring a major upset, the U.S. stranglehold on the race figures to end Saturday. Of the 12 starters, only three - outsiders Chaste, Solvig, and Crystal Music - were foaled in this country.

Trainer Andre Fabre will put Banks Hill and Spring Oak on a plane for New York on Tuesday afternoon. The pair will remain in quarantine at Aqueduct until vanning over to Belmont Park on Saturday.

Of the Fabre duo Banks Hill is generally regarded to have the best chance of winning the Filly and Mare Turf. Banks Hill has already won a Group 1 race at the direct expense of Crystal Music at Ascot earlier this season. Fabre also pre-entered Banks Hill in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Although she has yet to race beyond a mile, Fabre expects a big effort from her in the Filly and Mare Turf on Saturday.

"We pre-entered her in the Mile just to be cautious, but our initial plan all along was to run in the Filly and Mare Turf," said Fabre, who will not personally arrive on the scene until Friday. "Obviously the distance is a bit of a question mark but her racing style suggests she'll get the distance. She worked a mile and one eighth here last Friday and I was very pleased with the way she went."

Spring Oak will be making her second trip to North America having finished a troubled third in Woodbine's Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes on Sept. 30.

"She was a bit unlucky in Canada, but I'm pleased with her condition and the distance will be no problem at all," said Fabre.

Olivier Peslier, who has ridden both Banks Hill and Spring Oak this season, will be on Banks Hill Saturday. Frankie Dettori gets the call on Spring Oak.

Fabre also saddled Filly and Mare Turf hopeful Volga to a second-place finish in the E.P. Taylor but has since turned the reins over to Christophe Clement, who will send the Irish-bred 3-year-old out on Saturday along with stablemate England's Legend.

"She's a small filly but very athletic," Clement said of Volga, who he trains for owner Joseph Allen. "We're aware she'll be an outsider in this race but there's only one Breeders' Cup each year so we feel it's worth taking the chance. You never know what might happen, especially with an improving 3-year-old filly."

Mot Juste and Crystal Music will arrive on the same flight from England on Tuesday but unlike the Fabre twosome are scheduled to proceed directly to the quarantine barn at Belmont.