10/03/2004 12:00AM

Bago wins Arc de Triomphe

Ridden by Thierry Gillet, Bago wins the 83rd running of the $1.92 million Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.

PARIS, France - Bago could become the first winner of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe to test his mettle in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The half-length victory of the 3-year-old 6.70-1 son of Nashwan in Europe's championship race at Longchamp on Sunday proved that he could stay a mile and a half, a distance over which he had failed when finishing just third in his Arc prep, the Group 2 Prix Niel.

If sent to Lone Star Park, the Niarchos Family's colorbearer must next prove he can act on dirt while cutting back from twelve furlongs to ten in what would be his first race in the United States.

The Lagardere Family and their trainer Andre Fabre must have thought this Arc was theirs as the recent Grand Prix de Deauville winner Cherry Mix went clear approaching the furlong pole. But Bago, with the unheralded 35-year-old Thierry Gillet in the saddle, would not be denied. Tenth at the half-mile marker, Bago and Gillet found a seam and began their charge inside the quarter pole. The race was theirs seventy yards from the line, the 1 1/2 miles traversed on good ground in a quick 2:25.00, an Arc time slower only than that of the 2:24.60 posted by Peintre Celebre in 1997.

"The Breeders' Cup Classic has always been the plan," said the Niarchos Family's racing manager Alan Cooper. "He has now won Group 1 races at a mile (Criterium International), 1 1/8 miles (Prix Jean Prat), 1 1/4 miles (Grand Prix de Paris), and 1 1/2 miles (the Arc). We have always felt that he is an exceptional horse."

In the likely event that Bago does go in the Classic, he would be trying to succeed where another son of Nashwan had failed. Swain, third behind the undefeated Lammtarra in the 1995 Arc, then traveled to Churchill Downs where he finished third in the Classic under a memorable ride from Frankie Dettori.

"Just give us a few days to see how Bago comes out of the race," Cooper concluded, "and we'll give you our decision."

Cherry Mix will not run in the Breeders' Cup Turf, however. "Too young," sniffed an obviously dipleased Fabre. But Ouija Board, the unlucky third-place finisher, will be considered by her owner Lord Derby for the Filly & Mare Turf, even though the daughter of Cape Cross would have to be supplemented for $120,000.

Winner of the English Oaks, Ouija Board had not run since winning the Irish Oaks on July 18. Trapped near the back of the 19-runner field, she came flying home, crossing the line a length behind Cherry Mix and two lengths in front of the 83-1 Acropolis.

Epsom Derby winner North Light, who led or dueled to the quarter pole with Japanese invader Tap Dance City, was fifth with Irish Derby winner Grey Swallow a disappointing eighteenth. Tap Dance City caved in to finish seventeenth, while the surprise 4-1 favorite Prospect Park was only sixteenth.

In nailing down the Arc's $1.1 million first prize for his owner/breeders in the Niarchos Family, Bago has now earned 1.9 million while winning seven of nine lifetime starts.

Trained to Europe's juvenile championship title by the ever reserved Jonathan Pease, a man so reticent that he failed to make an appearance in either the winners' circle or at the post-race press conference, Bago became on Sunday a horse who stands on the bring of greatness.

For the record, British bookmakers Coral have installed him as the 5-1 second favorite for the Breeders' Cup Classic behind their 5-2 favorite Pleasantly Perfect.