03/13/2008 12:00AM

Action heats up in Europe


European racing emerges form its long winter's rest Saturday with the first group races of the year at Saint-Cloud in France and Lingfield Park in England, although it is still too early for any of the leading older horses to be making their seasonal debuts.

The Group 3, $124,000 Prix Exbury at Saint-Cloud has a certain Germanic flavor about it. Aspectus, formerly trained in Germany by Hans Blume, has been switched by his owners at Ecurie Rottgen to Andre Fabre, who has been hired in the hope that he can return the 5-year-old son of Spectrum to the form that won him the 1 3/8-mile Group 2 Oppenheim-Union-Rennen two years ago and the Group 3 Grosse Hessen Meile last July. Stephane Pasquier has the ride on Aspectus in the 1 1/4-mile contest, which also includes the Peter Schiergen-trained Davidoff, winner last spring of Krefeld's 1 1/16-mile Group 3 Dr. Busch-Memorial. Davidoff has just returned to Europe after two dull efforts in Dubai.

Those two could be vulnerable to the Dominique Sepulchre-trained Elasos. The dead-heat winner of the listed 1 1/4-mile Grand Prix de Compiegne in June on very soft ground will appreciate the heavy conditions that so often prevail at Saint-Cloud at this time of year.

The 1 1/4-mile Group 3 Winter Derby on the Lingfield Polytrack has been won in past years by Running Stag and Eccentric, each of whom would later win graded stakes in America, but there are no such horses in this year's $202,000 renewal. Silver Pivotal, however, has a license to improve off her course and distance handicap score on Jan. 26. The versatile and lightly raced 4-year-old filly was returning from an eight-month absence that day after having taken the listed Thoroughbred Stakes on the Goodwood turf in May and could have a class edge. Jamie Spencer will ride for trainer Gerard Butler.

Dubai's Touch, a head second to Dansant in the listed Winter Derby Trial, won the listed Easter Stakes on the Kempton Polytrack last April and was good enough to finish fourth behind Linngari in the Group 1 Premio Vittorio di Capua in October. A Mark Johnston-trained 4-year-old son of Dr Fong, he will be ridden by Joe Fanning.

Down the road, the British turf season at Doncaster starts on March 22, and the Irish season a day later at Cork. The first European Group 1 of the year will be the Prix Ganay at Longchamp on April 27.