10/29/2001 12:00AM

F&M Turf: Banks Hill leaves her foes gasping


ELMONT, N.Y. - Eight years ago, trainer Andre Fabre shocked the world when his unheralded longshot Arcangues upset the 1993 Breeders' Cup Classic. On Saturday, Fabre sent out a similar unknown, his 3-year-old filly Banks Hill, to top 11 of the best female turf horses from two continents with a devastating performance that resulted in a 5 1/2-length victory in the third running of the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Belmont Park.

Banks Hill easily registered the most one-sided victory on Breeders' Cup Day and in the process established herself as the overwhelming favorite to win an Eclipse Award in the filly and mare turf division. Both previous Filly and Mare Turf winners, Soaring Softly and Perfect Sting, won the Eclipse.

Banks Hill also gave jockey Olivier Peslier and owner Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms their first Breeders' Cup victories.

Banks Hill ($14) covered 1 1/4 miles in 2:00.36 over Belmont's inner turf course. The final time established a stakes record since this was the first time the Filly and Mare Turf has been run at that distance.

Lailani and England's Legend, co-favored at 5-2 after running one-two in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Handicap here three weeks ago, finished a disappointing eighth and 11th, respectively.

Banks Hill benefited from a textbook ride by Peslier, whose best previous Breeders' Cup finish was a second with Freedom Cry in the 1995 Turf. Banks Hill, an English-bred daughter of Danehill and Juddmonte homebred Hasili, stalked the early pace of England's Legend while tucked in along the hedge. Turning for home England's Legend came out a bit wide and Peslier seized the moment, driving Banks Hill to the lead from the inside and quickly drew off to a five-length advantage which she maintained under steady urging to the wire.

Spook Express, supplemented into the race for a $200,000 fee, came on with good energy in the final furlong to outfinish Spring Oak by 1 3/4 lengths for second.

"After winning a Group 1 at Ascot it was just a matter of getting the distance today," said Fabre, who registered his third Breeders' Cup victory and first since Arcangues. "The fact that she won and the way she won was really no surprise to me. In my heart I believe she should win the Eclipse Award."

Fabre said Banks Hill will remain in training through the winter, although he is undecided as to when and where she will run next.

Teddy Beckett, racing manager for Juddmonte Farms, speaking on behalf of Khalid Abdullah, who was not in attendance, said "to see her destroy the field like she did was superb."

"Winning the Breeders' Cup has always been a major goal for Juddmonte and this victory means a lot to the farm both in Europe and Kentucky," said Beckett. "To both own and breed a Breeders' Cup winner is the Holy Grail."

Tom Skiffington was delighted with the performance of Spook Express, who at age 7 was the oldest member of the field.

"She was closer than usual but must have been relaxed or she wouldn't have finished like she did," said Skiffington. "I'm not sure if this will be her last race. We might consider running her in the Matriarch."

Jerry Bailey, who rode Lailani, said "the course was much firmer on Saturday than when she won the Flower Bowl and probably wasn't to her liking. By the time I got to the far turn I was empty."

Trainer Christophe Clement said he was "very disappointed" in England's Legend's performance. "The rider said she made a lot of noise so we'll scope her and see if anything turns up."