Spook Express is the first Breeders Cup aspirant from South Africa.

Spook Express is the first Breeders Cup aspirant from South Africa.

Associated Press/ Bill Denver

Filly & Mare Turf Preview: Down an Eighth

Because the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (gr. IT) has been run only twice, it's hard to say there have been trends in the 1 1/4-mile event. But a few things have been established: The race has drawn full fields of 14, and those fields have been pretty deep. This year there won't be 14, but the field is evenly matched.

In 1999 at Gulfstream Park, and 2000 at Churchill Downs, the $1-million event was run at 1 3/8 miles because of course configurations. It will be run at an eighth of a mile less this year at Belmont Park.

In its first running in 1999, Soaring Softly won as the 7-2 favorite. At Churchill last year, Perfect Sting, one of the most consistent turf fillies in recent years, won as the healthy 5-1 second choice.

When the prep races for the World Thoroughbred Championships began in earnest in September, the Filly & Mare Turf looked like it would be wide open. Six weeks later, that had changed only a bit. A key local prep produced a filly that could end up the favorite, while other stakes were won by fillies and mares that may not make the Oct. 27 program.

In the Sept. 29 Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes (gr. IT), Sheikh Maktoum's 3-year-old Lailani won her U.S. debut in hand for her seventh consecutive victory. The Flower Bowl could prove the definitive key prep given the fact it was held on the same course, and at the same distance, as the Filly & Mare Turf.

Edouard de Rothschild's 4-year-old England's Legend, in front in the Flower Bowl until the final yards, won the Beverly D. Stakes (gr. IT) and the New York Handicap (gr. IIT) in her previous two starts and could provide the target in the Filly & Mare Turf.

One of the best divisional races of the year was the Sept. 29 Yellow Ribbon Stakes (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park, but the stars of that show will not be in the Filly & Mare Turf. Janet, the Yellow Ribbon winner who also took the Ramona Handicap (gr. IT) at Del Mar this year, was not supplemented and most likely will show up next in the Matriarch Stakes (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park in late November. Should she win, she could stake a claim for divisional honors without having competed in the Filly & Mare Turf.

Tranquility Lake, second in the Yellow Ribbon, was entered, but the Distaff (gr. I) is her first preference.

Robert and Janet Aron's Spook Express is headed for the Filly & Mare Turf even though the supplemental fee is $200,000. Spook Express, the 1998 champion filly in her native South Africa, won the Oct. 5 WinStar Galaxy Stakes (gr. IIT) at Keeneland in last-to-first style. In her previous three starts, Spook Express had finished third, once behind Perfect Sting, last year's champion turf female, and twice third behind England's Legend.

The hot-handed Bobby Frankel is pointing Starine, winner of the Diana Handicap (gr. IIT) at Saratoga this summer, to the Filly & Mare Turf.

Two 3-year-old fillies trained by Frenchman Andre Fabre bear watching--Banks Hill and Volga. Banks Hill, is a group I winner this year at a mile who has the pedigree to stretch out, while Volga just missed in the E.P. Taylor Stakes (gr. I) at Woodbine in her first North American start. She came flying late to just miss by a neck.

Affluent and Golden Apples, the one-two finishers in the Oct. 13 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup (gr. IT) at Keeneland, were not pre-entered.