10/11/2006 11:00PM

Gorella stands out in a deep First Lady field

Gorella began her 4-year-old campaign with a 1 1/4-length victory in an April 19 allowance over the Keeneland turf.

Fillies and mares will occupy center stage when three graded stakes, including two with potential Breeders' Cup implications, are run Saturday at Keeneland.

The richest race is the Grade 1, $500,000 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup, which typically produces a starter or two for the BC Filly and Mare Turf. But the horse that Breeders' Cup fans will be watching closest will start in the Grade 2, $400,000 First Lady, the nominal secondary feature on a 10-race card. Gorella, the sensational stretch runner whose connections say they are torn between running her in the Filly and Mare Turf or in the BC Mile, will be a solid favorite in the First Lady, which drew one of the deepest lineups in the filly-mare turf division all year.

On Wednesday, Gorella worked a half-mile over the Polytrack in 47.20 seconds.

"I am very happy with her right now," said Patrick Biancone, who trains Gorella for Martin Schwartz. "Her work here was very good. We will see what happens Saturday, then see how she comes out before we make any decisions about the Breeders' Cup."

Gorella ran nine times in her native France before being sent to Biancone a little more than a year ago. In her North American debut, she finished a fast-closing third behind Sweet Talker and Karen's Caper in the 2005 QE II, after which she really began to distinguish herself. Gorella was absolutely flying at the finish when she finished third against male rivals in the BC Mile, and after getting nearly six months off, she began her 4-year-old campaign with a 1 1/4-length victory in an April 19 allowance over the Keeneland turf.

Gorella then finished fifth by 1 3/4 lengths in the Woodford Reserve, behind English Channel and Cacique, two colts who since have become favorites for the BC Turf. She scored breathtaking wins in her only two subsequent races, snatching victory from apparent defeat in the Grade 2 Just a Game in June and passing the rest of the field to win the Grade 1 Beverly D. nine weeks ago in Chicago.

The one-mile First Lady represents a turn-back in distance from the 1 3/16-mile Beverly D., but Biancone said that does not concern him.

"Her turn of foot is very dangerous at this distance," he said. "Plus she is fresh. That should help."

Gorella, with Julien Leparoux to ride again, will break from post 4 in the First Lady, which drew 11 entrants but will be limited to 10 starters. Among her top challengers are Sweet Talker (post 9) and Karen's Caper (post 3), both of whom narrowly bested Gorella last fall in the QE II; My Typhoon (post 1), who has attained peak form in winning two of her last three starts; Mea Domina (post 7), who proved herself a divisional leader in California by taking the Palomar at Del Mar last out; and Wend (post 10), a Claiborne Farm homebred who was narrowly beaten in this race last year by Intercontinental, the eventual BC Filly and Mare Turf winner.

Besides the First Lady (race 8) and the QE II (race 9), the Saturday program also includes the Grade 3, $300,000 Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes (race 7) and three allowances (races 3, 5, 6). The TCA Stakes figures to have a solid favorite in Behaving Badly, the Bob Baffert-trained standout who arrived here Wednesday from California.

The First Lady and QE II make up half of the final NTRA National Pick 4 of the year. The other two races in the pick four, a $1-minimum wager with a 25-percent takeout, are the Champagne and Frizette from Belmont Park. The First Lady goes as the second leg (4:50 p.m. Eastern post time), and the QE II goes as the fourth leg (5:35 post).

The NTRA pick four will be televised on ESPN from 4 to 6 p.m. Eastern.

Continuing an unseasonably chilly trend that moved into this region Wednesday night, the forecast high temperature for Saturday is only 57, albeit under sunny skies.