09/26/2006 11:00PM

Where Gorella runs strictly a guess


CHICAGO - The matching of U.S. and European talent can pump up interest in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, but this year - a year with plenty of talent on both sides of the Atlantic - the leading U.S. lady isn't really American. And, she may not even be running.

French-bred Gorella, who made her first nine starts in France, shot to the top of the American charts with a last-to-first rally Aug. 12 in the Beverly D. Stakes, her first victory beyond 1 1/8 miles. But those awaiting a Filly and Mare Turf throw-down between Gorella and the brilliant English mare Ouija Board might be waiting in vain.

Gorella's trainer, Patrick Biancone, will commit publicly to nothing beyond Gorella's next race, the Oct. 14 First Lady Stakes at Keeneland. Far from coincidentally, the First Lady is contested over one mile, and Gorella could easily be redirected to the BC Mile, a race in which she finished a close third last year, instead of the Filly and Mare Turf, which at 1o3/8 miles is farther than Gorella ever has raced.

"We haven't decided which way we're going to go yet," said Biancone. "There's no leaning one way or another right now. It will depend on the competition in each race."

Ouija Board, however, has been penciled in for her third straight Filly and Mare Turf appearance. She won the race two years ago at Lone Star, and finished second last season at Belmont.

"All things being equal we plan to run in America," trainer Ed Dunlop said Wednesday.

Ouija Board, one of the best mares of recent years, has earned nearly $4.6 million in a 20-start career that has carried her around the globe. Her 2005 season started slowly, but six weeks after her second to Intercontinental in the Filly and Mare Turf, she won the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase, and Ouija Board has come back with another extraordinary campaign in 2006. She has won two Group 1's in England and placed in two others, nipped once by Dylan Thomas and beaten another time by Shirocco, both among Europe's finest.

"She's rated higher now than she's ever been rated in her life," Dunlop said.

Ouija Board was entered in the key European prep race for the Filly and Mare Turf, Sunday's Prix de l'Opera, part of the Arc de Triomphe card at Longchamp, but Dunlop said Ouija Board was "not a certain runner."

"A decision should be made in the next 24 hours," he said. "It all hinges on the ground."

If Ouija Board passes Sunday's race, she could start instead in the Champion Stakes on Oct. 14 at Newmarket, Dunlop said.

Even without Ouija Board, a glittering edition of the Prix de l'Opera should have Filly and Mare Turf implications. Among those still eligible to start as of Wednesday is Alexandrova, the standout Irish 3-year-old filly considered a serious Filly and Mare turf candidate. Alexandrova, who could race in the Arc rather than the Opera, won the Epsom Oaks by six lengths, the Irish Oaks by four, and the Yorkshire Oaks by 3 1/2 - three straight Group 1 blowouts.

Others to watch in the Opera are Mandesha, winner of the Group 1 Prix Vermeille in her most recent start, and the South African mare Irridescence, owned by the U.S.-based Team Valor Stables.

There also is Filly and Mare Turf action Saturday in California, with the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita. The California female turf horses seem subpar this year, and the horse to watch in the Yellow Ribbon may be the 3-year-old filly Wait a While, shipped from New York by trainer Todd Pletcher. Wait a While is unbeaten in three turf starts, the most important of them the Grade 1 American Oaks at Hollywood Park.

Pletcher's other top 3-year-old turf filly, Magnificent Song, is headed for the Oct. 15 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup at Keeneland, which could turn into a significant Filly and Mare Turf prep. Also expected for that race is Germance, who, according to England's Racing Post, has been withdrawn from both the Arc and the Opera in favor of Keeneland's race.

Pletcher has still another Filly and Mare turf hopeful in Honey Ryder, who figures to race next in the Oct. 7 Flower Bowl, Belmont's Filly and Mare Turf prep. Two Europeans, Intrigued and Lahodood, are possible Flower Bowl starters; two others, Freedonia and Royal Higness, could go in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, according to the International Racing Bureau.

Other Americans on the Filly and Mare Turf radar are Film Maker, third in the race last year and second in 2004, and the soft-turf-loving Angara.