08/01/2008 12:00AM

Darjina lines up against Natagora

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Natagora and Darjina will duke it out in the Group 1, $390,000 Prix Rothschild as French fillies take center stage in the first of five Sunday cards at Deauville's prestigious August meeting. Formerly known as the Prix d'Astarte, the Rothschild has drawn a sterling field of nine fillies and mares to its straight mile.

Natagora is a speedy Pascal Bary-trained daughter of the Sunday Silence stallion Divine Light who has traveled to England twice to land major Group 1 prizes, most recently on May 4 when she led throughout in the 1000 Guineas. Stepped up to 1 5/16 miles against colts last time for the French Derby, she more than acquitted herself with a fine third-place finish, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths by Vision d'Etat. With Christophe Lemaire taking his regular place in the saddle, this cut back to a mile should suit her, but she will be facing some very tough customers.

The winner of three Group 1 races last year as a 3-year-old, among them this race, Darjina has come heartbreakingly close in three Group 1 tries vs. males this year. In March she was a half-length second to Jay Peg in the Dubai Duty Free. Most recently she was just a head behind Haradasun in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Owned by the Aga Khan and trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, Darjina has drawn right alongside Natagora, so rider Christophe Soumillon will be able to keep his main rival in his sights. A clean trip should get Darjina back on the winning track.

Royer-Dupre will also saddle an intriguing challenger in Sabana Perdida. The winner of the Group 2 Windsor Forest Stakes over Royal Ascot's straight mile, the Cape Cross 5-year-old is riding the crest of a three-race winning streak and is a threat with new rider Thierry Jarnet aboard, as her regular partner Lemaire opts for Natagora.

Freddy Head, having his best season as a trainer since he hung up his tack in 1997, will be represented by Goldikova, an Anabaa filly who has spent much of the year chasing the indomitable Zarkava. She was two lengths second to that one in the French 1000 Guineas and 4 1/2 lengths third to her in the French Oaks before winning the one-mile Group 3 Prix Chloe last time. Big-race specialist Olivier Peslier will be sure to have Goldikova near Natagora's early pace.

The best of three British invaders is Nahoodh. The Mark Johnston-trained filly was at her best last time in winning the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes at a straight mile on Newmarket's July Course, and will enjoy the likely good to soft ground. Frankie Dettori will be at the controls.

In the last 10 years, this race has produced 12 graded stakes winners in the United States, six of them - England's Legend, No Matter What, Six Perfections, Musical Chimes, Gorella, and Price Tag - at the Grade 1 level. Whether it is called the Rothschild or the Astarte, it is a key race from both an international and a purely American point of view.