10/23/2001 12:00AM

Juvenile Fillies: Sophisticat looms large as X-factor


ELMONT, N.Y. - There will be no better-bred horse on the World Thoroughbred Championships card than Sophisticat.

A daughter of 1985 Juvenile runner-up Storm Cat out of the mare Serena's Song, Sophisticat brought $3.4 million at the 2000 Keeneland July yearling sales. Serena's Song, the champion 3-year-old of 1995, won 17 graded stakes and more than

$3.2 million in a brilliant career. Her stretch-long duel with stablemate Flanders in the 1994 Juvenile Fillies - in which Serena's Song finished second - remains one of the more memorable moments in the 17-year history of the Breeders' Cup.

If Sophisticat can run to her bloodlines in Saturday's $1 million Juvenile Fillies, she could be the X-factor in a race many figure to be dominated by You and Bella Bellucci.

At the very least, the 16-1 odds placed on her by British bookmaker William Hill are intriguing.

With a record of 1-5-1 from seven starts in Europe, Sophisticat's form does not jump off the page. But when you consider those races were run at sprint distances on turf, one might expect improvement when she finally gets on dirt at a distance of ground. The Juvenile Fillies is run at 1 1/16 miles.

After winning her maiden going six furlongs in her second start, Sophisticat has dropped five straight races. She displayed a timidness in her races that trainer Aidan O'Brien believes has held her back.

"She's a filly with an unbelievable amount of natural ability,'' O'Brien said. "She's run in most of the big filly races here up to seven furlongs and she seemed to get seven furlongs no problem. In all the races when Michael [Kinane] used to pull the stick out, she used to duck from it. He was afraid to touch her so we put [blinkers] on to see would it help her. The first half of the race she was very shy and didn't want to go between [horses], but she finished the last half well.''

Still, O'Brien believes Sophisticat will run better without blinkers and plans to take them off for Saturday's race.

Although Sophisticat figures to like the dirt better than the turf, her connections enter the race with more hope than confidence.

"She's run in the highest class of races,'' said Demi O'Byrne, the racing manager for Michael Tabor. "There may have been an excuse last race, but I'm not crazy for excuses. Suffice to say she's a lovely looking filly who has shown a lot of nearly top-class form and I think she's entitled to go there.''

* After two days of walking the shed row, Juvenile Fillies favorite You returned to the track Tuesday, jogging 1 1/2 miles at Belmont. "She came out of her work really good, that's why I'm not doing too much with her,'' trainer Bobby Frankel said.