05/20/2005 12:00AM

Bago big favorite in Irish debut


Bago ventures to Ireland for the first time on Sunday for the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, where Virginia Waters will attempt to complete a classic double in the Irish 1000 Guineas.

Last year's Arc winner and champion European 3-year-old, Bago began his season with a victory in Longchamp's Group 1 Prix Ganay over the Tattersalls distance of 1 5/16 miles on April 24. Trainer Jonathan Pease will give Thierry Gillet a leg up on Bago, the Nashwan colt who goes in search of his ninth victory in this, his 11th career start for the Niarchos family. Stablemate Imago Mundi will again play the role of pacesetter, which he filled to perfection in the Ganay.

Bago, whose ultimate goal this year is the Breeders' Cup Turf, looks like a solid 4-6 favorite in a race that has been won in recent years by Montjeu, Fantastic Light, and Powerscourt. On Sunday he will face last year's Irish Derby winner Grey Swallow, and Champion Stakes winner Azamour - both of whom are making their 2005 debut - as well as the consistent British invader Norse Dancer, who won the 1 1/8-mile Group 3 Earl of Sefton Stakes at Newmarket two starts back.

In the $505,000 Irish 1000 Guineas, Virginia Waters will attempt to duplicate the historic feat of Attraction, who last year became the first filly to win both the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and its Irish equivalent. The Aidan O'Brien-trained Virginia Waters, a daughter of Kingmambo, has not frightened anyone away, however, as 18 others will run with her in the classic mile.

Chief among her rivals is Maids Causeway. A Barry Hills-trained daughter of Giant's Causeway, Maids Causeway was runner-up to Virginia Waters in the 1000 Guineas but would move up if the ground is soft, the type of surface over which she won the Group 2 Rockfel Stakes at Newmarket last October.

Titian Time has a chance in her first start of the year off her second-place finish behind Divine Proportions in last fall's Prix Marcel Boussac. Also, trainer David Wachman may have an ace up his sleeve in Damson, who beat Saturday's Irish 2000 Guineas favorite Oratorio last August in the six-furlong, Group 1 Phoenix Stakes.

Meanwhile, in the 1 1/4-mile Group 3 Gallinule Stakes, highly touted maiden winners Ehsan and Scorpion meet in the final major prep for the June 4 Epsom Derby.