10/14/2004 12:00AM

Azamour can clinch No. 1 status


Azamour can nail down honors as the best 1 1/4-mile horse in Europe with a victory in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, the richest day on the British racing calendar, when seven group races and a handicap worth a total of $1.9 million will be run.

The John Oxx-trained Azamour placed in both the 2000 Guineas and the Irish 2000 Guineas, and defeated the winners of both those races when winning the one-mile St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot. He then showed that 1 1/4 miles is probably his best distance, winning the Irish Champion Stakes on Sept. 11 at Leopardstown.

The straight 10 furlongs at Newmarket should suit Azamour, who will be ridden by Michael Kinane. He will be opposed again by Irish Champion runner-up Norse Dancer, but as a still-improving 3-year-old he seems to have the measure of that 4-year-old.

Doyen, an also-ran at 4-5 in the Irish Champion, makes a surprising return in this Group 1, $630,000 race. Deemed the best horse in Europe after his victory in the 1 1/2-mile King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, Doyen was held out of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and slated for a long rest after his Leopardstown flop.

But now he is back, with Frankie Dettori in the saddle, and running at a distance two furlongs short of his best.

If Azamour loses, the vastly improved Mister Monet may be the one to beat him. Trained by Mark Johnston, the 3-year-old Mister Monet will be facing older horses for the first time, but he has won four in a row and is coming off a highly impressive four-length score in the Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano.

Also running is Eclipse Stakes winner Refuse to Bend, who will appreciate a return to his favorite distance after running third to Rakti in the Queen Elizabeth II. Mingun, an A.P. Indy 4-year-old out of Miesque, has a chance to crack the first three.

The Group 1, $450,000 Dewhurst Stakes for juvenile colts and fillies has attracted undefeated Group 2 winners Etlaala and Shamardal, as well as Oratorio, the winner of the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. All of those victories came at the Dewhurst distance of seven furlongs, and the edge may belong to Shamardal, a Mark Johnston-trained runner whose easy victory in the Vintage Stakes points him out as something special. Godolphin's Perfectperformance won the one-mile Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes last time out but may be inconvenienced by the cutback in distance.

Godolphin has two horses in the Group 2, $180,000 Challenge Stakes, and while Dettori has chosen to ride Godolphin Mile winner Firebreak, Kerrin McEvoy may have landed on the winner in Badminton.

Absent for a year after having placed in both the Group 2 Lowther Stakes and the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes, Badminton returned with a sharp score in the listed October Stakes three weeks ago at Ascot. She is taken to upset her older, mostly male rivals at her favorite distance of seven furlongs.

In the Group 2, $126,000 Rockfel Stakes for juvenile fillies, Group 1-placed Maids Causeway, the unbeaten Shanghai Lily, and Cherokee, a maiden-winning half-sister to Lil's Lad, may not be good enough to beat Fen Shui, a daughter of Timber Country who scampered home first by six lengths in her maiden debut for Godolphin at Kempton last month.