10/12/2005 11:00PM

QEII up for grabs

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Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Irish-based Luas Line, here winning the Garden City BC at Belmont, is the probable QEII favorite off that victory.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Two Grade 1 races have evolved as probably the most important in the niche division of 3-year-old turf fillies: the American Oaks at Hollywood Park, and the at Keeneland.

Cesario, the Japanese sensation, won the July 3 American Oaks in breathtaking fashion in what clearly was the deepest race so far in the division. The $500,000 QEII, to be run Saturday at Keeneland, is missing both Cesario and the American Oaks runner-up, Melhor Ainda, but otherwise, it fits the bill.

Singhalese and Luas Line, the third- and fourth-place finishers in the American Oaks, are joined by six other accomplished fillies in what shapes up as an excellent 22nd running of the QEII. The $500,000 race will be televised live on ESPN (5-6 p.m. Eastern) on a show that also will serve as a preview of the Oct. 29 Breeders' Cup championships.

Luas Line, Irish-bred and Irish-based, is the likely favorite in the 1 1/8-mile QEII. Owned by Evelyn Stockwell and trained in County Tipperary by 34-year-old David Wachman, Luas Line followed her creditable American Oaks showing with two stakes wins on her home circuit in Ireland, then a rousing 1 1/2-length triumph under John Velazquez in the Grade 1 Garden City BC at Belmont on Sept. 10.

Wachman said earlier this week that he was awed by Cesario when he made the trip to California this summer for the American Oaks. "She was fabulous," he said. "I remember how well she worked before the race. The way she won, she's the best 3-year-old filly I've seen all year - by far."

Jim Cassidy, trainer of Singhalese, concurred. "Cesario is a freak," he said.

But with Cesario having been sidelined several weeks after the American Oaks with a ligament injury, and Melhor Ainda in New York awaiting the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, the QEII is ripe for the picking.

If she runs back to her Garden City effort, Luas Line looks like the filly to beat from post 2. Velazquez will be in from New York to keep the mount, and Wachman, who was scheduled to arrive here Friday from Ireland, said he is optimistic Luas Line can earn a berth in the BC Filly and Mare Turf.

"She has improved quite a bit as the year has gone on," he said. "She's a lovely filly."

Singhalese (post 1), with Mike Smith to ride, can boast of her own Grade 1 victory, having captured the Aug. 20 Del Mar Oaks with a searing late run.

Several other fillies are legitimate contenders in the QEII, too. They are Karen's Caper (post 4), a War Chant filly who will make her U.S. debut for Stonerside Stable and trainer John Gosden; Gorella (post 5), a French-bred filly who has made a habit of keeping Group 1 company in recent starts; Three Degrees (post 6), another late-closing Californian who was second as the favorite to Singhalese in the Del Mar Oaks; and Naissance Royale (post 7), a Giant's Causeway filly whose U.S. debut for trainer Christophe Clement resulted in a gutsy victory in the Grade 2 Lake Placid at Saratoga in August.

The rest of the QEII field is Isla Cozzene (post 3) and Sweet Talker (post 8). Isla Cozzene was cross-entered in the Hawthorne Oaks for Saturday and is likely to scratch from the QEII, which would leave a field of seven.

The QEII, first run in 1984, has produced a smattering of Breeders' Cup starters, with the latest being Riskaverse and Zenda, who finished one-two in the QEII, then seventh and eighth in the 2002 BC Filly and Mare Turf at Arlington.

The QEII goes as the ninth of 10 races on a Saturday card that also includes four allowances (races 5, 7, 8, 10). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern.

The field

Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup
Purse: $500,000; 1 1/8 miles, turf; Grade 1

PPHORSEJOCKEYODDS
1SinghaleseM. Smith9-2
2Luas LineJ. Velazquez2-1
3Isla CozzeneB. Blanc20-1
4Karen's CaperR. Albarado12-1
5GorellaG. Stevens5-1
6Three DegreesA. Solis6-1
7Naissance RoyaleE. Prado7-2
8Sweet TalkerR. Bejarano8-1

* All starters carry 121 pounds
* Odds by Kristin Sadler
* Television: Saturday, 5-6 p.m. (Eastern), ESPN