06/25/2008 12:00AM

All eyes on two big 1 1/2-mile races


Two of the biggest 1 1/2-mile races on the European calendar will be run on Sunday at the Curragh and Saint-Cloud. The Irish Derby is expected to feature the first three finishers from the Epsom Derby on June 7 - New Approach, Tartan Bearer, and Casual Conquest - while the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud for older horses will be led by Soldier of Fortune, last year's Irish Derby winner who last won the Coronation Cup at Epsom on the day before the Derby.

The intrigue that winds its way through the pattern of European 12-furlong races has taken on added meaning in America this year since Curlin is being aimed at the Oct. 5 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, the pinnacle of 1 1/2 miles races. Curlin's turf workout at Churchill Downs next week will be closely monitored by connections of all of Sunday's runners at the Curragh and Saint-Cloud.

The Jim Bolger-trained New Approach is the 4-5 Irish Derby favorite with Irish bookie Paddy Power, who lists Tartan Bearer, who was just a half-length second to the choice at Epsom, at a rather generous 7-2. Casual Conquest, 4 1/2 lengths behind Tartan Bearer at Epsom, is the 8-1 third choice in the Irish Derby

Epsom Derby fourth Doctor Fremantle, who like Tartan Bearer is trained by Michael Stoute, would have to be supplemented to the Irish Derby and is more likely to go next in the 1 1/2-mile Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on July 14. There he might meet the fast-improving Montmartre, the winner of the 1 1/2-mile Group 3 Prix du Lys at Longchamp last week.

Last year's Grand Prix de Paris winner Zambezi Sun will take his chance in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, a race won in recent years by Arc winners Helissio and Montjeu, Arc runner-up El Condor Pasa, and Japan Cup winner Alkaased. But in Soldier of Fortune, Zambezi Sun will be facing the current Arc favorite, a Galileo 4-year-old who in the Coronation Cup defeated last year's Arc runner-up Youmzain by three-quarters of a length. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, who just completed the most successful Royal Ascot meet ever by a trainer, Soldier of Fortune is much improved since his fifth-place finish behind stablemate Dylan Thomas in last year's Arc.

Challenging him at Saint-Cloud will be last year's Man o' War winner Doctor Dino, who is fresh from a victory over Zambezi Sun in the Group 2 Grand Prix de Chantilly, as well as Group 1 Premio Presidente della Repubblica winner Saddex and last year's Arc fourth Getaway.

Paddy Power currently offers Soldier of Fortune as its 4-1 Arc favorite with New Approach at 6-1, Getaway 11-2, the 3-year-old filly Zarkava 6-1, Duke of Marmalade 7-1, Tartan Bearer 12-1, Youmzain 12-1, Curlin 14-1, and Casual Conquest 16-1.