06/15/2001 12:00AM

Four days of jolly good racing


LONDON - English racing's annual four-day garden party, otherwise known as Royal Ascot, gets under way Tuesday before 45,000 revellers at the historic racetrack fifty miles west of London.

The feature on the opening day card will be the St. James's Palace Stakes, a Group 1 mile for 3-year-old colts that serevs as a kind of championship final for winners of the English, Irish and French 2000 Guineas. This year's contest will be highlighted by a not-unexpected battle between Europe's two juggernauts, Godolphin and the Magnier/Tabor/O'Brien Coolmore team. Godolphin is sending out Poule d'Essai des Poulains winner Noverre. He will be challenged by Coolmore's Irish Guineas winner Black Minnaloushe.

Black Minnaloushe may have the edge here, as he improved greatly to defeat his highly regarded stablemates Mozart and Minardi at The Curragh by two lengths. Noverre managed the French Guineas by only a head from Vahorimix, whom Andre Fabre is sending over for this race from Chantilly.

Tamburlaine, second to Golan in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, was only fifth behind Black Minnaloushe at The Curragh. Neither he nor the Godolphin second stringer West Order, an undefeated Group 3 winner who failed in a Nad Al Sheba trial in April, should trouble the two favorites.

In the one-mile Group 2 Queen Anne Stakes for older horses, the Michael Stoute-trained Medicean will try to duplicate the form that won him the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes on May 19.

Named for the monarch who founded Ascot Racecourse in 1811, the Queen Anne is the traditional tablesetter at the Royal meeting, which will feature fifteen group races to be witnessed by more than 200,000 racegoers during its four days.

Like last year, when it was won by Dubai Millennium, the greatest excitement

will be generated by Wednesday's 1 1/4-mile Prince of Wales's Stakes. Fantastic Light, Kalanisi and Observatory will do battle in what should be one of the more memorable races of the year.