10/15/2003 12:00AM

Islington making the overseas trip after all

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The complexion of the Filly and Mare Turf changed dramatically this week when trainer Michael Stoute confirmed he would bring Islington back to the U.S. for the 2003 Breeders' Cup.

In the 2002 Filly and Mare Turf, Islington fought traffic difficulties and rallied from near the back of the pack to finish third, behind Starine and Banks Hill. A 4-year-old daughter of Sadler's Wells, Islington is rated first in her division, 1 point higher than Tates Creek, in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's World Thoroughbred Rankings, and could be the favorite in the Filly and Mare Turf.

Stoute had said he might bypass the Breeders' Cup for the Japan Cup later this fall. But his decision to run Islington in the Filly and Mare Turf was not an abrupt one.

"We've really been considering the Breeders Cup all along," Stoute said Wednesday from his training center in England. "My main concern is the long distance she'll have to travel to get there. We'd really prefer for the race to have been at Belmont Park or Churchill Downs, where the climate is similar to here and the flight is not so long."

Of her four starts this year, Islington has won one, the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, which she has won two straight years. Each of her losses this year have been against males, including a third-place finish behind High Chaparral in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes on Sept. 6.

"Her performance in the Champion Stakes is an indication that she's every bit as good now as she was when she came for the Breeders' Cup last year," said Stoute.

Stoute said Islington would leave for California on Friday.

"It's a very long trip from door to door," said Stoute. "Hopefully she'll travel well and won't lose too much weight on the trip."

Keeneland's Queen Elizabeth II Stakes has produced several Filly and Mare Turf candidates since the race was first run in 1999. Although this year's QEII was one of the most exciting in recent memory, none of the race's top finishers will start in the Breeders' Cup.

Film Maker outgamed the pacesetting Maiden Tower, with Casual Look a fast-closing third in last Saturday's QEII. Graham Motion, who trains Film Maker, and Neil Howard, who assumed training duties for Casual Look immediately after the race, briefly considered the Filly and Mare Turf.

"The QEII was the race we've been pointing for all along," said Motion, whose QEII victory was his first in a Grade 1. "It would be asking too much of her to come back off that effort on only two weeks rest."

Howard, whose best chance at a Breeders' Cup victory went by the wayside when Mineshaft was recently retired, also didn't want to bring back Casual Look in two weeks.

"We thought about it, but she's had a hard campaign and the Breeders' Cup comes up too soon," said Howard.