07/04/2007 11:00PM

Distance the key in Eclipse

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Authorized and George Washington are scheduled to duke it out in the $880,000 Eclipse Stakes on Saturday, although trainer Aidan O'Brien has warned that he will scratch George Washington if the ground remains soft at Sandown Park.

That would leave Authorized, the Epsom Derby winner, in the clear for the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 contest, even though he is cutting back in distance from 12 to 10 furlongs. It is the same drop that the 2005 Epsom Derby winner, Motivator, failed to make when he lost the Eclipse to Oratorio in his next start.

There are, however, questions about George Washington's ability to stay 1 1/4 miles. He failed to do so on dirt in last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic. On Saturday he will be faced with Sandown's four-furlong uphill stretch, making the Eclipse a severe test of stamina.

Trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam will give jockey Frankie Dettori a leg up on Authorized, a Montjeu colt, in what will be Dettori's last big race ride for some time, as he was slapped with a 14-day suspension on Thursday for having hit Ramonti 25 times through the stretch in winning the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Dettori will take his enforced vacation from July 13 to 26.

If the Eclipse is too short for Authorized and too long for George Washington, it is just right for Notnowcato, who has notched two Group 1 victories at 1 1/4 miles, most recently defeating Dylan Thomas in the Tattersalls Gold Cup in May.

O'Brien could saddle three others in the Eclipse - Admiralofthefleet, Archipenko and Yellowstone - although Yellowstone is likely to wait for the 1 1/2-mile Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp on July 14.