08/19/2001 11:00PM

A rainy invitation to Europe

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Bobby Frankel had a terrific coast-to-coast weekend with victories in three 1 1/4-mile stakes. Arlington Park and its signature race, the Arlington Million, also fared handsomely, despite, or in a sense because of, showers Saturday morning which put some yield into the turf course.

The rain, coming when it did, probably cost Arlington a minimum of 5,000 in attendance, but its long-term effect may be beneficial. It was a factor in the victory of Germany's Silvano - and could encourage more Europeans to race at Arlington - and contributed to the defeat of several well-regarded horses including the 3-2 favorite, Bienamado. In Europe, they do not take grass races off the turf when it rains because they have no dirt tracks at most major courses. They run on soft and yielding strips, and while some do better than others, most have a familiarity with less-than-firm going that the majority of horses racing in the U.S. do not have.

Silvano is a good horse and a fantastic traveler. He won Group 1 races in Singapore and Hong Kong and gave a good account in Dubai. His performance in the Million cannot be faulted. He raced close to the pace through most of the race and then drove to an authoritative four-length triumph under Andreas Suborics. How would he have fared on firm ground? He might well have produced the same strong form, but others who showed little on Saturday, including Bienamado, White Heart, and Senure, might well have been important contenders.

Silvano's victory has not gone unnoticed in Europe, where many fans watched the race on television. It is likely to spur more and better competition from Europe in the seasons immediately ahead, adding to the appeal of the Million.

It could also help to produce a good representation from Europe for the 2002 Breeders' Cup, if current contractual negotiations between Arlington and the Breeders' Cup are successful. The Breeders' Cup has never been held in Chicago and many European horsemen are not familiar with its outstanding facilities. Silvano's experience could be encouraging.

Silvano represents one of Germany's most important stables, Gestut Farhof Stiftung, owned by prominent industrialist Dr. Andreas Jacobs, who also owns the sire Lomitas, a good race horse in his day and a productive stallion. Silvano is a homebred, and if the stable can produce a horse of his quality in top international competition, its outlook is definitely bright.

Singing Flute's praises

Bobby Frankel sets high standards, and when he found a filly who measured up on virtually every account, he became her advance man. All spring, on his trips to Kentucky, he sang the praises of Flute as a special individual, with the skills and temperament found only in quality horses. She responded with a resounding victory in the Kentucky Oaks, living up to her billing as one of the best of our 3-year-old fillies.

Flute took another step forward Saturday, winning the $750,000 Alabama Stakes by 4 3/4 lengths. Under Edgar Prado, she went to the front at the start for the first time in her career, maintained her advantage, and had the Alabama safely tucked away at the head of the stretch. It was an impressive performance against a good field, and Flute was warmly received after her tour de force by the 35,616 on hand.

The only thing missing on a memorable occasion was Fleet Renee, the Mother Goose winner and an impressive campaigner in her own right. Pointing for the Alabama, she had a setback, prompting her knowledgeable trainer, Michael Dickinson, to pass the race. Fleet Renee has a good turn of speed and set the pace in several of her starts. Had she run, the Alabama might have been a different kind of a race. Chances are that Flute would not have gone to the front, for Fleet Renee would have gone with her, setting up a murderous speed duel that might have taken them both out of the picture.

Frankel says he is inclined to be conservative this fall with Flute, who may or may not have a prep race at Belmont Park before the Breeders' Cup Distaff. He is in excellent position to call the shots. Flute has her credentials, while the others are seeking theirs.

As for the trainer, he had a weekend few of his colleagues have ever experienced. In addition to the Alabama, he rang the bell with Skimming in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar and also captured the $300,000 Saratoga Breeders' Cup with Aptitude, who came off the pace to capture the 1 1/4-mile feature by 4 1/4 lengths. Frankel's horses not only win, but they win big.