07/16/2008 12:00AM

Early Arc picture fuzzy for Curlin


Although it is nearly three months until the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe will be run at Longchamp, this past weekend was chock-full of events that will have an impact on the great race. While Curlin's modest performance in the Man o' War Stakes on Saturday at Belmont Park impelled Ladbrokes to remove him from its Arc betting, just two days later Montmartre thrust himself into favoritism for what will almost certainly be the world's richest race come Oct. 5.

Steve Asmussen and Jess Jackson have some serious decisions to make between now and Arc Day. Curlin's connections have sounded the time-honored refrain "all options open," concerning Curlin's future. These include running in the Arc or not running in the Arc. Running in another turf race in America (the Arlington Million? the Sword Dancer?) before heading for France. Options include using either the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Sept. 6 or the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Prix Foy at Longchamp on Sept 14 as his final Arc prep or staying at home for either a domestic turf campaign or a return to dirt.

If trainer and owner decide to go the Arc route, the prize money being offered by France-Galop and its Arc sponsors Qatar will be a factor. This year's Arc purse has been doubled to 4 million euros courtesy of the largesse of the Qatar government. At the current exchange rate that comes to $6,368,800, or $368,800 more than the Dubai World Cup. The dream of winning the world's two richest races in the same year must be tempting, even though Curlin hardly looked like Arc material at Belmont, finishing two lengths behind a Red Rocks who had finished 7 1/4 lengths behind the Arc second-favorite, Soldier of Fortune, in Epsom's 1 1/2-mile Coronation Cup last month.

Asmussen and Jackson are not the only ones who will working overtime on their Arc plans. The scintillating performance of Montmartre in Monday's Grand Prix de Paris over the Arc course and distance sets up a delectable dilemma for his connections: owner Aga Khan, trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre, and rider Christophe Soumillon.

That is because Royer-Dupre and Soumillon are also the trainer and rider of the undefeated filly Zarkava, who races in the colors of the Aga Khan's daughter, Princess Zahra Aga Khan. The winner of both the French 1000 Guineas and the French Oaks, Zarkava will try 1 1/2 miles for the first time on Sept. 14 in the Prix Vermeille. If, as expected, she is successful, the team could run both Zarkava and Montmartre in the Arc, forcing Soumillon into the most difficult decision of his career.

On Tuesday, Ladbrokes listed Montmartre as its 4-1 Arc favorite with Zarkava co-second choice at 6-1 with Soldier of Fortune and the Epsom Derby winner, New Approach. It then quotes the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, winner Youmzain at 10-1; Getaway 12-1; and the French Derby winner Vision d'Etat 14-1. Irish bookmaker Paddy Power has Montmartre and Zarkava as 9-2 co-favorites with next week's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes favorite, Duke of Marmalade, at 6-1. Curlin, 12-1 with Paddy Power before the Man o' War, has been pushed out to 16-1. He is, however, 8-1 with online bookies bet365.com, suggesting that someone, somewhere, is still very high on Curlin's Arc chances.