09/28/2001 12:00AM

This Flower Bowl looks like the Cup


ELMONT, N.Y. - If you weren't aware of the date, you might confuse Saturday's $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational at Belmont Park with the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, which will be run four weeks later at the same track over the same distance.

The Grade 1 Flower Bowl has drawn a powerful field of seven, including European star Lailani, Beverly D. winner England's Legend, and Diana winner Starine.

Daily Racing Form's Mike Watchmaker has made Lailani the

9-5 favorite over Starine at 5-2, followed by England's Legend at 3-1.

The Flower Bowl is one of two Grade 1's on Saturday at Belmont serving as final preps for the World Thoroughbred Championships on Oct. 27. The other is the $750,000 Turf Classic Invitational, a Grade 1 for male grass runners. The $125,000-added Gallant Bloom, for filly and mare sprinters, is also part of the 10-race card.

The Flower Bowl, which will be run at 1 1/4 miles over the inner turf, was a springboard for Soaring Softly's victory in the inaugural running of the Filly and Mare Turf in 1999.

Christophe Clement, who trained Coretta, runner-up to Soaring Softly in both the 1999 Flower Bowl and Filly and Mare Turf, tries to win his first Flower Bowl with England's Legend. Clement said England's Legend's 7 3/4-length win in the Beverly D., in which she was able to set an uncontested pace over a yielding course, was a remarkable performance.

"I would not trade my place with anyone else [in the Flower Bowl]," Clement said. "Her race in the Beverly D. was the most impressive of any horse I have trained."

Those are strong words from Clement, who has trained a bevy of stakes-winning female grass runners. But Clement has yet to win a Breeders' Cup race or train a champion, something England's Legend could change this year.

England's Legend drew the rail under Corey Nakatani. She stands as the principal speed, but could receive some early pace pressure from Babae.

The turf at Belmont will be on the soft side after heavy rains last week, but doesn't figure to be the bog it was at Arlington for the Beverly D. A bit of give in the ground certainly won't hurt the chances of Lailani, a winner in Europe of her last six races. In July, Lailani, a 3-year-old, won the Group 1 Irish Oaks and then took the Group 1 Nassau Stakes over older fillies and mares in her last start on Aug. 4.

Lailani, who will race with Lasix for the first time, arrived in New York on Sunday, and after clearing quarantine at Aqueduct was moved to Belmont on Tuesday. Her trainer, Edward Dunlop, said Lailani lost some weight during her travels, but doesn't expect it will her compromise her chances. Jerry Bailey picks up the mount on Lailani, who drew post 2.

"She has recovered well from the trip," Dunlop said. "It should be presumed she was fit and ready to go when she left my yard. But I want to stress very much this is a prep race and we are building to the Breeders' Cup, depending upon the outcome. If we were in the top three, I would be extremely pleased."

Starine has won her last two, including the Diana, in which she drew off with a quick burst in the stretch for a 5 1/4-length win. John Velazquez, aboard Starine in her last three races, said the filly is improving with each start because she has learned to relax.

In the Diana, Velazquez said, "I took a little hold of her behind horses and she relaxed and finished strong."

Starine, who is owned and trained by Bobby Frankel, would need to be supplemented to the Breeders' Cup for $90,000.

Also entered were Chaste, Tweedside, and Spook Express, who is expected to scratch in favor of Friday's $500,000 WinStar Galaxy Stakes at Keeneland.