09/28/2006 11:00PM

Deep Impact gets firm ground for Arc

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PARIS - Deep Impact, lauded in Japan as the best horse ever produced in that country, will find conditions to his liking at Longchamp on Sunday as he attempts an historic victory in the $2.55 million Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

A firm-ground specialist who can handle good going, Deep Impact approaches the 1 1/2-mile Arc under the sunny skies of Paris that have baked the Longchamp turf down to 3.1 on the penetrometer. That is solidly good ground that should play right into the hands of the Deep Impact, a 4-year-old son of Sunday Silence, while not necessarily aiding the chances of his two very dangerous rivals, Hurricane Run and Shirocco.

The Arc, with a post time of 11:30 a.m. Eastern, will be televised live by TVG along with three other races on the Longchamp card. The others are the Prix Marcel Boussac (10:05 a.m.), Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (10:45 a.m.), and Prix de Grand Hotel Barrieire (12:15 p.m.).

The presence of the Big Three is one of the reasons this Arc will go off with just eight starters in the box, the smallest field since 1941. This, too, is beneficial to Deep Impact, as he tends to come from well behind. If he lags at the back of an eight-runner field, there will be fewer horses to pass as well as less trouble to get into along the way in his attempt to become the first Japanese-based horse to win Europe's premiere race.

The winner of 10 of his 11 races at home and winner of last year's Japanese Triple Crown, Deep Impact has been a perfect 3 for 3 this year, prepping with a handy score in the 1 3/8-mile Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen. That race, however, came on June 25, and the question trainer Yasuo Ikee is asking of Deep Impact is a daunting one: Can he win the biggest race of his life off a 14-week layoff?

Ikee and his rider, Yutaka Take, say that he can. Others have their doubts, but there are doubts about his main rivals as well, especially the defending champ, Hurricane Run.

Last year's European champion, Hurricane Run, has been beaten in 2 of his 4 starts this season - by Pride in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on June 25 and by Shirocco in the Prix Foy three weeks ago. In between, in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, he beat the late Dubai World Cup winner, Electrocutionist, and Heart's Cry, who is the only horse ever to finish in front of Deep Impact.

His King George effort suggests that trainer Andre Fabre is able to get Hurricane Run, a son of Montjeu, up for the big ones, as he did last October for a two-length Arc victory. Kieren Fallon gets the ride back, but he was Hurricane Run's rider the last two times he lost. Moreover, Hurricane Run would prefer some give in the ground, as would his stablemate Shirocco.

Shirocco has been perfect since landing the Breeders' Cup Turf last fall. He prepped with a win over Hurricane Run and Pride in the Prix Foy, and while he would rate an overall edge if the ground turned soft, good ground might compromise his chances.

The Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained mare Pride holds decisions over both Hurricane Run and Shirocco in the last 13 months and is another who would move up on soft ground. The one who stands the best chance of an upset on good ground is Fabre's third-stringer, Rail Link.

A Dansili 3-year-old, Rail Link is a two-time Arc course-and-distance winner in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris and the Group 2 Prix Niel. This is his first try against older horses, however, so he may find the competition too tough.

Sixties Icon, this year's St. Leger winner, is the best-bred horse in the race. By English and Irish Derby winner Galileo out of English Oaks winner Love Divine, he is another facing older for the first time.

Irish Wells, recent winner of the 1 9/16-mile Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville, and Best Name, who took the 1 1/4-mile Group 3 Prix du Prince d'Orange two weeks ago at Longchamp, are capable but overmatched opponents.

A victory by Deep Impact would have nearly the same impact as the victory of the French-bred Gladiateur in the 1865 Epsom Derby, when the winner proved that English horses could be beaten in their biggest race. Deep Impact is good enough to point the Thoroughbred compass sharply Eastward if he can overcome his long but well-planned absence on Sunday.