10/15/2008 11:00PM

Arc may have been Soldier of Fortune's prep


Soldier of Fortune will hold a lukewarm favorite's chance in a Breeders' Cup Turf that may be the most confusing race of the weekend.

The Aidan O'Brien-trained Soldier of Fortune won the Coronation Cup on June 6 and was beaten by two-time Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runner-up Youmzain in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud later that same month, and he returned off a 14-week layoff to finish a good third behind Zarkava and Youmzain in the Arc.

It looks oddly like O'Brien was using the Arc as a prep for the Turf, a move that could pay dividends should the 4-year-old Soldier of Fortune hit the mark in front of the American breeding community at Santa Anita.

O'Brien and his rider, Johnny Murtagh, came in for criticism for the tactics they employed in the Arlington Million, when Mount Nelson trapped Archipenko against the rail, preventing him from getting a clear run at eventual winner Spirit One. Formerly trained by O'Brien, Archipenko ran in the Million for Mike de Kock. In the Turf, de Kock will saddle the ex-O'Brien trainee Eagle Mountain.

Twice a Group 2 winner for O'Brien, Eagle Mountain was second in the 2007 Epsom Derby and a distant third to then-stablemate Soldier of Fortune in the Irish Derby. His Ballydoyle finale last October was a game second by a head in the 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes, after which he was sold privately, like Archipenko, to Sheikh Mohammed's cousin Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al-Maktoum.

In Dubai last winter, Eagle Mountain fractured his pelvis and didn't return to action until he won the one-mile Group 3 Joel Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 3. De Kock has a near magical way of getting the best out of a horse. Eagle Mountain should delight in a strongly run 1 1/2 miles on firm ground, so he must be given every consideration in the Turf.

Grand Couturier has won three Grade 1 races at 1 1/2 miles and fits as well as anything in the Turf, and better than most. He goes on any sort of ground and is lightly raced this year. Remember, he finished just a neck behind Red Rocks in the 2006 Grand Prix de Paris, a race won by subsequent Arc winner Rail Link.

Conduit is a St. Leger winner who arrives in America with a better chance for victory than that of Milan, the 2001 St. Leger winner who finished second to Fantastic Light two starts later in the Turf. While Milan used a fifth-place finish in the Arc to prep for his Turf, the Michael Stoute-trained Conduit, bred on both sides for 1 1/2 miles, comes straight to the Turf from the St. Leger. The question he faces is the dropdown from 1 3/4 miles, 166 yards.

It is impossible to envision Red Rocks winning the Turf off the 15-week layoff he has endured since beating Curlin in the Man o' War Stakes. Spring House, only fourth in the 1 1/4-mile Clement Hirsch, stands a better chance of victory than the first two in that race, since Red Giant and Out of Control have never run beyond 1 1/4 miles.

Better Talk Now is a fine old campaigner who has met his match again and again over his last eight starts and will do so again against the tougher competition in the Turf. Winchester was beating nothing in his visually impressive Secretariat Stakes score but has not run since then on Aug. 9. His two tries at 1 1/2 miles in Europe were woeful.