06/06/2002 11:00PM

French Oaks a contentious affair

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The European classic scene moves back to France Sunday to the elegant surroundings of Chantilly for a wide open renewal of the Prix de Diane or, as it is better known in the English-speaking world, the French Oaks.

Fifteen 3-year-old fillies will line up for the $475,000 Group 1 contest which will be run at 1 5/16 miles on the idyllic racecourse graced by not one, but two, 17th Century castles. Just who will crowned the Thoroughbred queen of France is a moot question, however, as seven of the evenly matched contestants are coming off stakes victories.

Without going too far out on a limb, the selection is Bright Sky, an Elie Lellouche-trained, Ecurie Widenstein-owned daughter of Wolfhound who has been a narrow runner-up to Oaks rivals in all three of her three starts this year.

Losses to Turtle Bow in the listed Prix Finlande, Ana Marie in the Group 3 Prix Vanteaux, and Marotta in the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary may have left her backers frustrated, but all of those came on good to firm ground. Last year Bright Sky won three times on soft ground and that is what she will get at Chantilly on Sunday. French champion rider Dominique Boeuf has the call.

Will Farish, America's ambassador to Great Britain, could spoil the Wildenstein party with the unbeaten, fast improving Music Club. Trained in England by John Gosden, the Dixieland Band homebred was an impressive 3-length winner of the listed 1 1/4-mile Prix Melisande last time on soft ground.

Dance Routine is coming off a nice win at Chantilly in the Group 3 Prix de Royaumont, but she is running on just eight days rest. Moreover, she is cutting back from 1 1/2 miles, so this 1 5/16 miles may be a bit short for a filly who is by of Sadler's Wells out of a mare by Shirley Heights. A greater danger is Ombre Legere. Recently bought by Gary Tanaka for a possible run in the Hollywood Oaks, she took the Group 3 Prix Penelope on April 10 and is anbother who likes it soft.

At Mulheim, trainer Peter Schiergen and rider Kieren Fallon, who teamed to win the Coronation Cup with Boreal at Epsom Friday, can score again with Guadalupe in the 1 3/8-mile Group 1 Preis der Diana (German Oaks).