10/27/2004 11:00PM

Soft turf could hurt Euros' chances

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A game of musical chairs revolving around the Filly and Mare Turf and the Distaff, plus ground worries caused by more than two inches of rain at Lone Star Park on Monday night, have changed the complexion of some Breeders' Cup races, especially for European-based horses.

Track superintendent Ron Moore labeled the turf course soft on Wednesday. If there is no change by Saturday, the chances of Ouija Board in the Filly and Mare Turf and Powerscourt in the Turf could be compromised.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, European horses do not necessarily take to soft ground. Their trainers understand that the going is usually firm on American turf tracks and make their Breeders' Cup plans accordingly.

With Ouija Board moving from the Turf to the Filly and Mare Turf, Nebraska Tornado from the Filly and Mare Turf to the Distaff, and Azeri from the Distaff to the Classic, the races look markedly different than they did a week ago. Further rain could change everything again.

Distaff

Nebraska Tornado goes in a race that no foreign-trained filly or mare has won. The winner of the 2003 French Oaks at 1 5/16 miles, Nebraska Tornado also beat males in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp at one mile, so the 1 1/8 miles of the Distaff should suit this Storm Cat 4-year-old perfectly. There are, however, three problems for Nebraska Tornado. One, she has never run on dirt. Two, she is winless this year, although her third last time behind Attraction in the Sun Chariot Stakes suggests that she is rounding into form. Three, she is a very difficult filly to handle.

In June, Gary Stevens took her onto the track between races at Chantilly for a workout, but she refused to budge. She has caused problems at the gate, and the hothouse atmosphere on Breeders' Cup Day may not be to her liking.

On the plus side, she has never raced against anything except top-class fillies and colts, and she is trained by Andre Fabre, who worked magic with a turf colt, Arcangues, to win the Classic in 1993. The Distaff was opened up by the decision to send Azeri in the Classic, but Nebraska Tornado still looks like she is in tough.

Juvenile Fillies

This is the other race that no foreign-trained horse has ever won, and the streak is not likely to be broken this year. Aidan O'Brien and Coolmore, who recognize the value of a Breeders' Cup victory, have entered a maiden filly named Mona Lisa. A daughter of the excellent first-year sire Giant's Causeway, who narrowly missed in the 2000 Classic, Mona Lisa was an unlucky fourth in the Group 1 Fillies Mile at Ascot last time. While she can be expected to give a good account of herself in a tough field, players are urged to discount her high Timeform rating of 108 in that race. Even Giant's Causeway's influence will not get her into the winner's circle, although she should be staying on late.

Mile

Is it time to rename the Breeders' Cup Mile the Niarchos Mile? Stavros Niarchos or his heirs have won this five times - twice with Miesque and once each with Spinning World, Domedriver, and Six Perfections. While defending champ Six Perfections has yet to win this year, she has been pointed to the Mile by trainer Pascal Bary since the start of the season. Her Timeform ratings suggests that she is on the same pattern that led her to last year's Mile, when in her three previous races she earned figures of 117+, 112+, and 123+. This year her ratings are 116, 113, and 121+. She should not mind Lone Star's configuration or soft ground. Moreover, she will be reunited with her companion in last year's Mile, Jerry Bailey.

Soft-ground-lover Whipper is not owned by the Niarchos family, but he was bred by them. By Miesque's Son, he beat Six Perfections by a length two back in the Prix Jacques le Marois, the race Six Perfections had won prior to her 2003 Mile heroics. Whipper is basically a sprinter who can stretch his speed to a mile. In that, he is similar to another Robert Collet-trained horse, Last Tycoon, who won the 1986 Mile coming off a victory in the five-furlong Nunthorpe Stakes. Whipper needs a fast pace, as he will come from far out of it. He will also have to avoid traffic problems.

O'Brien sends the enigmatic Antonius Pius. A Danzig 3-year-old, he had the French 2000 Guineas in his pocket when he veered wildly right in deep stretch at Longchamp, slamming into the rail with the line in sight and fading to fifth. He has caused problems in other races and will add excitement to the Mile. If he can straighten himself out, he would also pose a threat to win it.

Diamond Green was twice the victim of Antonius Pius's antics. A Fabre trainee, Diamond Green ended a string of seconds when he ran poorly in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, an effort that can perhaps be overlooked. He acts on any kind of ground and could be the best value on the card, especially if he can repeat his excellent second in the St. James's Palace Stakes.

Filly and Mare Turf

With Ouija Board having been rerouted to this race, she looks very much like the day's best bet. But two factors may work against her: the possibility of soft ground, and her closing style. A slow starter, Ouija Board and rider Kieren Fallon may have difficulty finding a way home in the 13-runner field. If she can work out a trip, and the ground comes up good, she will win. But she is not worth even money on soft ground.

Aubonne was close but unplaced in the Beverly D. and the Flower Bowl. The 11 furlongs of the Filly and Mare Turf should be to her advantage, and so would soft ground. She should be tracking the pace early on and, as she has become accustomed to American-style racing, should be very dangerous at long odds.

Yesterday, third in this race last year, was fourth in the Prix de l'Opera last time, suggesting that she is rounding into form. She, too, can handle soft ground and is perfectly suited by 1 3/8 miles. Note that the two times the American-trained favorite Light Jig has faced fillies as good as Ouija Board or Yesterday, she was beaten by Musical Chimes and Commercante.

Juvenile

By Fusaichi Pegasus, Scandinavia finished a good second in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes after experiencing some difficulty in midstretch, finishing 1 1/4 lengths in front of the Juvenile's other Euro invader, Wilko. Placed in three group races this season, Wilko is an Awesome Again colt who will remain in America after the Breeders' Cup. The Juvenile is a new game for both of them. Neither is in the same class as either of the two previous European Juvenile winners, Arazi and Johannesburg.

Turf

While Powerscourt, another O'Brien trainee, is absolutely first class, he is primarily a 10-furlong horse, as his victories in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and Arlington Million (from which he was disqualified) bear out. He won on soft ground as a 2-year-old but would prefer firm going. Still, he must be very seriously considered, and while he is not High Chaparral, this is not a first-rate renewal of the Turf. Powerscourt was a Group 2 winner at 1 1/2 miles last August - when he beat Brian Boru, twice third in the Canadian International - and there will be value in backing him at the expense of the underlay Kitten's Joy.

Classic

The Japanese entry Personal Rush gives the Classic some much-needed international flavor. A late-blooming son of Wild Rush, the sire of Distaff runners Stellar Jayne and Hollywood Story, Personal Rush lands in Texas off a stunning nine-length triumph in the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Derby Grand Prix, Japan's definitive dirt race for 3-year-olds. In his previous outing, he defeated older horses going 1 1/16 miles in the Grade 3 Elm Stakes. Chris Williams at Timeform gave him a 117+ rating for the Derby Grand Prix, but warned, "I may have erred on the side of caution. It could be quite a bit higher." Frankie Dettori had the ride sewed up a month ago, an indication of Japanese resolve.