10/22/2003 11:00PM

Stoute hopes Islington won't wilt in the heat


ARCADIA, Calif. - Islington finished third and was arguably best in the 2002 Filly and Mare Turf, is currently rated atop her division in the NTRA World Thoroughbred Rankings, and comes off a third-place finish behind top-caliber European males High Chaparral and Falbrav in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes. Despite such an imposing resume, even trainer Michael Stoute is not quite sure what to expect from his filly, who is the likely favorite in Saturday's $1,060,000 Filly and Mare Turf.

"If she runs back to her best form in Ireland she's going to be very competitive," Stoute said Thursday. "But she's had a very long trip and we don't really know how any of these horses are going to react to the heat until they actually get over there on Saturday."

The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 80's at post time for the Filly and Mare Turf.

Islington was beaten less than two lengths by Starine despite encountering a good deal of early trouble in last year's Filly and Mare Turf, contested over a yielding course at chilly Arlington Park. She has made only four starts since. Three of those races came against males, including the Irish Champion Stakes in which she was defeated a neck and a head by High Chaparral and Falbrav, both of whom will be among the favorites later in the day in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The effect the unseasonably warm weather has on the European and East Coast invaders may go a long way in deciding the Filly and Mare Turf, which is regarded by many as the most competitive race on Saturday's Breeders' Cup program.

"There are at least six or seven fillies who on paper can win the race," said Christophe Clement, whose multiple Grade 1 winner Voodoo Dancer is among that group. "The Europeans seem to do better when the Breeders' Cup is run in colder places and we are also coming from much colder weather in New York, so I think the locals have a big edge."

The locals include Tates Creek and Musical Chimes, first and second, respectively, in last month's Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Handicap at Santa Anita, and Megahertz, who has not started since her last-to-first victory in John C. Mabee Handicap at Del Mar on July 26. Dimitrova has won major grass stakes on both coasts, Hollywood Park's American Oaks and Belmont's Grade 1 Flower Bowl, since trainer Dermot Weld first brought her to the U.S. from Ireland this summer.

Tates Creek and Megahertz are two of the three fillies trainer Bobby Frankel will saddle in the Filly and Mare Turf, along with Grade 1 winner Heat Haze. Frankel sent out Starine and Banks Hill in the 2002 Filly and Mare Turf, and they finished one-two.

"The Filly and Mare Turf and the Sprint are the toughest races on the card," said Frankel. "It's hard for me to judge the competition or guess what effect the weather might have on some of the Europeans. We really won't know until after the race. All I know is that I have three really nice fillies and hopefully they're good enough to win."

Musical Chimes, who finished a fast-closing second making her U.S. debut in the Yellow Ribbon, has since been transferred from Andre Fabre to trainer Neil Drysdale's barn and will race in blinkers for the first time on Saturday.

Three Europeans, all 3-year-olds, will make their U.S. debuts in the race. They are Mezzo Soprano and the Aidan O'Brien-trained pair of Yesterday and L'Ancresse.

Bien Nicole, runaway winner of the Grade 2 WinStar Galaxy Stakes, and Riskaverse complete the lineup.