07/01/2008 12:00AM

Focus on Arc picture


The fiasco that was Sunday’s Irish Derby has helped, along with the upset of Soldier of Fortune in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, to rejigger the antepost book for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Beaten by last year’s Arc runner-up Youmzain into second at Saint-Cloud, Soldier of Fortune has fallen into a three-way tie for Arc favoritism with Irish bookies Paddy Power and is now the 5-1 co-choice with Epsom Derby winner New Approch and French Oaks winner Zarkava. New Approach missed the Irish Derby due to lameness in his left hind leg and trainer Jim Bolger has not set a timetable for his return. A Galileo 3-year-old, New Approach has time on his side, however, as many of the principal Arc runners will have only one autumn prep for the big race at Longchamp on Oct. 5.

Youmzain, 8-1 with Paddy Power for the Arc, and Soldier of Fortune are expected to renew their rivalry at Ascot on July 26 in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, while Zarkava, the Aga Khan’s latest super filly, is taking the traditional French summer vacation and won’t be seen until she has her course and distance Arc prep in the Prix Vermeille on Sept. 14.

That is the date Steve Asmussen is targeting for Curlin’s first European outing in the Prix Foy. The traditional course and distance Arc prep for older horses would make an ideal Arc trial for Curlin, but Asmussen is having trouble finding an American send-off for his Dubai World Cup winner as neither New York, home of Belmont’s Man o’ War Stakes, nor Illinois, the site of the Arlington Handicap, will allow Curlin to run because the horse is part-owned by people who, for legal reasons, cannot be licensed as owners in those two states. Curlin’s Arc price at Paddy Power is 14-1.

If he makes it to Longchamp on the first Sunday in October, Curlin could be joined by another long-distance traveler in Meisho Samson. Trained in Japan by Shigetada Takahashi, he is a 5-year-old son of Opera House who finished a very good second in the 1 3/8-mile Grade 1 Takarazuka Kinen at Hanshin on Sunday, circling the field to come from last of 14 to be beaten only a head by Eishin Deputy. That he did so on a yielding turf course stands Meisho Samson, the 2006 Japanese Derby winner, in good stead for what is not infrequently softish ground at Longchamp on Arc Day.

The Irish Derby left a bad smell in the air as the Aidan O’Brien-trained German-bred Frozen Fire grabbed a two-length victory in the 1 1/2-mile classic, in large part because his O’Brien-trained stablemate Alessandro Volta wiped out Tartan Bearer and Curtain Call at the eighth pole. In countries where parimutuel rules hold sway, Frozen Fire, one of five horses in the Derby owned by different combinations of the Magnier/Tabor/Smith consortium, would have been coupled with Alessandro Volta and so been disqualified with him, thus making runner-up Casual Conquest the winner.

Of course if Alessandro Volta had not interfered with Tartan Bearer and Curtain Call, either one of them might have won. Gang Coolmore knows that if one of their uncoupled entries impedes another horse, none of their other O’Brien-trained stablemates will suffer as a result. It is an ongoing problem with European racing.

In any case, Paddy Power has introduced Frozen Fire into the Arc betting at 14-1. The firm also offer the O’Brien-trained Prince of Wales winner Duke of Marmalade at 7-1. Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud fifth Getaway is pegged at a stingy 12-1, while Irish Derby runner-up Casual Conquest is 16-1. French Derby winner Vision d’Etat, on vacation for the summer prior to an expected return in the Prix Niel on Sept. 14, is 14-1 with Ladbrokes.

Strong Oaks contingent

In what may be the last American Oaks ever run at Hollywood Park on Sunday, racing secretary Martin Panza has recruited four European-based fillies to run in the 1 1/4-mile Grade 1 contest. Two of them, Carribean Sunset and Satan’s Circus, could be sitting on big races.

A daughter of the fine Danehill sire Danehill Dancer, Carribean Sunset is trained by Dermot Weld, the Irishman who engineered Dimitrova’s 2003 American Oaks triumph. A Group 3 winner this spring going seven furlongs and a mile, Carribean Sunset was an unlucky third in an Irish 1000 Guineas that was won by Halfway to Heaven, a filly she had beaten by a head in one of her Group 3 scores. She ran better than ever when third in the Group 1 Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 20, an effort that bodes well for her first try beyond a mile, as that uphill Ascot mile is a test of stamina, one that should set a horse up nicely for a try at an American 1 1/4 miles. Carribean Sunset will have her regular rider Pat Smullen aboard.

Ten furlongs will pose no problem for Satan’s Circus. The winner of a 1 5/16-mile listed race at Toulouse two back, Satan’s Circus arrives in California a relatively fresh horse with only one race since April 25, that a fifth-place finish in the Prix de Diane, or French Oaks. That effort is better than it looks on paper, as the 1 5/16-mile Oaks was won by a filly from another planet in Zarkava. Subtract her three-length margin of victory and Satan’s Circus was 4 1/4 lengths behind what would have been a normal French Oaks winner. Ioritz Mendizabal, winner of this year’s French Derby aboard Vision d'Etat, will fly in to ride Satan’s Circus. Trained by French provincial master Jean-Claude Rouget, Satan’s Circus, a Gone West half-sister to Gulfstream’s 1 1/16-mile Group 3 Honey Fox Handicap winner Delmonico Cat, was recently sold by Edmund Gann to Martin Schwartz and is slated to remain in America after the Oaks.

Annie Skates closed like a shot to get second in last October’s Epitome Stakes, one of the supporting races on Monmouth Park’s Breeder’ Cup Friday undercard. She has, however, failed to distinguish herself back in England this spring for trainer Jane Chapple-Hyam. As a notoriously slow starter, her chances look compromised.

Tom Dascombe is all but unknown in America but in the Anbaa filly Zaskar he will saddle a warm longshot. Zaskar won a handicap at the Oaks distance at the new British Polytrack course Great Leighs two back and was second in a 1 7/16-mile listed race at Le Lion d’Angers on June 13. An improving type, she could be running late.