03/08/2002 1:00AM

Classification ranks Act One best in France


NEW YORK - With all of the hullabaloo surrounding the juvenile prospects of Godolphin in England and Aidan O'Brien in Ireland, French 2-year-olds tend to get lost in the shuffle.

The International Classification certainly didn't think very highly of Gallic juvenile form last year. Act One was International Classification's highest rated French-trained 2-year-old, but his 117 rating was nine pounds below that of European champion Johannesburg.

What separates Act One from the rest is that he is the only non-O'Brien-trained 2-year-old colt to win a Group 1 race in Europe in 2001. That came in the newly established Criterium International at Saint-Cloud on Nov. 3, when he beat O'Brien's Landseer by a half-length in the one-mile contest.

By Breeders' Cup Turf winner In the Wings, Act One is out of the Baillamont mare Summer Solstice and is trained by his dam's trainer, the transplanted Englishman Jonathan Pease. Act One began his career with a game score in a Chantilly maiden race on Sept. 5, then followed with a three-length victory over a modest field in the Group 3 Prix Thomas Bryon at Saint-Cloud on Oct. 15.

All three of his victories have come at a mile, and all three have been on soft or sticky ground. He has, however, the makings of a French Derby (Prix du Jockey-Club) winner, as long as he can hold off the O'Brien hoards. An Act One victory in the Prix du Jockey-Club would be a first for both Pease and his British owner, Gerald Leigh, who also owns Gossamer, the second-highweighted juvenile filly on the International Classification.

Zipping, rated a pound beneath Act One at 116, spent much of his juvenile campaign having dirt kicked in his face by Johannesburg. A Zafonic colt whose dam Zelda is a half-brother to Breeders' Cup Mile winner Last Tycoon, Zipping chased Johannesburg home in a pair of six-furlong Group 1's, the Prix Morny and the Middle Park Stakes. Prior to that, Zipping won the 5 1/2-furlong, Group 2 Prix Robert Papin in his fourth start at Maisons-Laffitte. He will be pointed to the Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas), but there is a question as to whether he will stay the mile in top-class company.

Andre Fabre has a prime Epsom Derby candidate in Shaanmer, who is undefeated in three starts. A son of French Derby winner Darshaan, Shaanmer is a half-brother to Nordican Inch, a Rockingham stakes winner at 1 1/8 miles. Shaanmer completed his season with a two-length victory over Caesarion in the one-mile, Group 3 Prix des Chenes at Longchamp on Sept. 23. He was sent off at odds of 1-2 in the race and was not fully extended to win. Like Act One, all of his wins have been at or about a mile, but he has proved himself adept on firm, soft, and very soft ground.

It was a measure of Shaanmer's performance in the Prix des Chenes that Caesarion, still a maiden, emerged with a Classification rating of 110. A son of Danehill, he followed followed that effort with a second to Rashbag in the 1 1/8-mile Group 3 Prix de Conde. Rashbag, 4 for 5 on the season, is a Reprimand colt who looks like a Grand Prix de Paris type.

With very soft to heavy ground prevailing in these early days of the Parisian racing season, soft-ground specialists may have an advantage in the French classic preps. Two meetings at Maisons-Laffitte, which lies adjacent to the River Seine west of Paris, had to be transferred to Saint-Cloud and Compiegne this week due to the waterlogged course. On the other hand, if the ground does turn good to firm come mid-May or June, the classic winners may be the winners of the classic preps, like the Prix de Fontainebleau or Prix Greffulhe.

Two who might benefit from continued soft ground are the fillies Firth of Lorne and Summertime Legacy.

Firth of Lorne, a daughter of Danehill trained by Henri-Alex Pantall, won going a mile at Nantes in both of her starts, taking a maiden race by six lengths and the listed Prix des Sablonnets by 2 1/2 lengths on very soft ground.

Summertime Legacy, trained by Fabre for Maktoum Al Maktoum, failed in her first try on firm ground but then took an allowance on soft and the Group 3 Prix des Reservoirs on sticky ground. In the latter race she had previous listed Criterium de Lyon winner Mariensky four lengths behind in fourth.

Summertime Legacy is by Darshaan out of an El Gran Senor mare, so she should have no trouble staying the 1 5/16 miles of the French Oaks or the 1 1/2 miles of the English and Irish Oaks.