10/23/2001 11:00PM

Turf: Fantastic Light instantly favored


ELMONT, N.Y. - The decision by Godolphin Racing to start Fantastic Light instead of Sakhee in Saturday's $2.14 million Breeders' Cup Turf met with mixed reaction from several trainers who have horses in the race.

Both Fantastic Light and Sakhee are multiple stakes-winning millionaires, but Sakhee was considered a more likely Turf starter after his runaway win in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct. 7. In his place, Fantastic Light brings top-class credentials to the turf, having won three Group 1 races this year in England and Ireland.

Fifth in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Turf, Fantastic Light has won a stakes at Belmont Park, taking the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes in September 2000. A 5-year-old, Fantastic Light will be retired at the end of the year, trainer Saeed bin Suroor said.

"Fantastic Light has run all his races on turf and we would like to keep him there," said Suroor.

After Godolphin announced the decision, British bookmakers quoted Fantastic Light as low as 11-10. "Quite rightly so," said his jockey, Frankie Dettori.

There are 12 entrants for the Turf, run over 1 1/2 miles. There are five entrants from Europe and seven from North America.

Timboroa, the winner of the Grade 1 Turf Classic at Belmont Park on Sept. 29, is the top contender of the domestic team. Godolphin's decision to start Fantastic Light left trainer Bobby Frankel with the impression that Timboroa has a good chance to win.

"Mine looks as good as the rest of them," Frankel said. "I think it would have been tougher to beat Sakhee on turf than dirt."

Trainer Bill Mott, who starts Hap, the runner-up in the Arlington Million, still expects a tough race.

"It doesn't make it any easier," Mott said of facing Fantastic Light rather than Sakhee. "Originally, I thought they were both going in the Classic. I was happy with that decision."

Another American contender, With Anticipation, worked five furlongs at Delaware Park in 1:01.80, the fastest of 18 works at the distance.

Fantastic Light retains the respect of the European trainers, who have watched him win three Group 1 races this year - the Tattersalls Gold Cup, Prince of Wales's Stakes, and Irish Champion Stakes. His only loss was a second to Galileo in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in July.

"He was second to Galileo in the King George and he has to have a big chance," said Aidan O'Brien, the trainer of Turf starter Milan as well as Galileo, who starts in the Classic.

O'Brien was not concerned by Milan's fifth-place finish in the Arc. Milan finished eight lengths behind Sakhee, but the race was run on a heavy course, and firm conditions are expected on Saturday.

"He ran a real good race," O'Brien said of Milan's race in the Arc. "We're looking for him to run well again."

Milan won two stakes in late summer - the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York and the Group 1 St. Leger Stakes at Doncaster over about 1 13/16 miles on Sept. 15.

Along with the longshot Blazing Fury, Milan is trying to become the first 3-year-old to win the Turf since Tikkanen in 1994.