09/26/2002 12:00AM

Ground key to Flower Bowl


ELMONT, N.Y. - There may not be a horse entered in Saturday's $750,000 Flower Bowl Invitational who can beat Banks Hill.

But perhaps Mother Nature can keep the defending female turf champion from seeing the Belmont starting gate.

The connections of Banks Hill said she would not run in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl if Belmont's inner turf comes up soft. It rained most of Thursday and was expected to rain all day Friday, which could force Banks Hill to scratch and run in next Saturday's Yellow Ribbon at Santa Anita.

"We're not going to run if it's very soft," said Dr. John Chandler, president of Juddmonte Farms, which owns Banks Hill. "If it's good ground, we'll most likely run. It doesn't have to be rock hard."

Chandler said the initial plan was to run Banks Hill in the Yellow Ribbon then leave her in Southern California to train up to the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Arlington on Oct. 26. But Banks Hill handled Belmont's turf course so well last year winning the Filly and Mare Turf by 5 1/2 lengths that the Flower Bowl was a natural choice. Either way, Chandler said Banks Hill would be flown to California early next week to train for the Breeders' Cup.

Since there are no Group 1 races for turf fillies in Europe, Banks Hill has faced males four times this year. She won the Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois in Deauville in August before finishing second, beaten one-half length by superstar Rock of Gibraltar, in the Prix du Moulin at Longchamp.

"It was a hell of a good run," Chandler said. "It's certainly no disgrace to run second to a horse that has won seven Group 1 races in a row."

Though Olivier Peslier was named to ride Banks Hill, he will not. If Banks Hill runs, Starine will scratch, and John Velazquez, who was named on Starine, will ride Banks Hill.

Trainer Bobby Frankel would like to run Starine in the Flower Bowl, but does not want to meet Banks Hill in Starine's first race since May. One reason Frankel would like to run Starine is her fondness for soft turf.

"I just want a little cut in the ground," Frankel said. "If you look at her form when she runs with a little cut in the ground, she runs good."

England's Legend may be the horse to beat should the turf be soft. England's Legend whipped a solid field in last year's Grade 1 Beverly D. at Arlington and took this year's Modesty Handicap over yielding turf.

"Her performance in the Beverly D. was unbelievable," said trainer Christophe Clement, who has Jerry Bailey to ride.

Godolphin Racing has shipped over the talented 3-year-old Kazzia to run in the Flower Bowl. After winning her first four starts - including a pair of Group 1 races - she finished fourth in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks on Aug. 21. Kazzia missed some time leading up to that race with a quarter crack. She developed a quarter crack in her other front hoof following that race, but is apparently well enough to run.

"We thought the race would suit her, and we need to establish whether she's a legitimate contender for the Filly and Mare Turf," said Simon Crisford, racing manager for Godolphin who would have to supplement Kazzia for $90,000. "She is a really, really top class filly. Any rain you get is going to work to her advantage."

Tarfshi, Turtle Bow, Mot Juste, Surya, and Sunstone round out the field.