05/29/2006 11:00PM

France's Visindar tops Epsom cast


It has been 30 years since a French-trained horse crossed the English Channel to win the Epsom Derby. On Saturday, trainer Andre Fabre can end France's drought when he saddles Visindar, the 3-2 favorite in the 227th running of the race.

Undefeated in three starts, Visindar is a son of the 2000 Epsom Derby winner, Sinndar, and, like him, is owned by the Aga Khan, a man who is no stranger to the Derby winner's circle, having also won with Shergar and Sharastani.

Visindar has won his three races by a total of 10 1/2 lengths. He galloped home an unchallenged winner of the 1 1/4-mile Group 2 Prix Hocquart at Saint-Cloud on May 15 and has won on both good and heavy ground. With Christophe Soumillon on board for the 1 1/2-mile Derby, he looks like a tough nut to crack.

The history of French-trained horses in the Derby is a checkered one. Nine have won it, but Gladiateur, whose victory in 1865 changed the course of racing history, is not one of them. Bred in France and owned by his breeder Comte Frederic de Lagrange, Gladiateur was French all over but was trained in England by Tom Jennings.

It wasn't until 1914 that a horse actually trained in France would succeed at Epsom. That was Durbar. Owned by the American Herman Duryea, who raced in France because of the anti-betting laws then in effect in the United States, Durbar won by three lengths in a 30-horse field.

It would be 33 years until a second French victory. Pearl Diver ignited a rich period of French plunder at Epsom as the Gauls took 5 of 10 Derbies through 1956, Pearl Diver being followed by My Love, Galcador, Phil Drake, and Lavandin.

In 1963 Phil Drake's trainer, Francois Mathet, won again with Relko. Etienne Pollet followed in 1965 with Sea-Bird, a horse who is still considered one of the best Thoroughbreds of the 20th century. Eleven years later, Maurice Zilber engineered the last French triumph with Nelson Bunker Hunt's Empery.

France will actually have two chances of Derby glory on Saturday as Fabre also runs Linda's Lad. Owned by Irishman Sean Mulryan, Linda's Lad already has an English victory - the Lingfield Derby Trial on May 13. Because Godolphin is without a runner this year, the 12-1 Linda's Lad will be ridden by Frankie Dettori.

The reduction of the French Derby from 1 1/2 miles to 1 5/16 miles seems to have directed France's best 1 1/2-mile horses to England. Chantilly's loss is Epsom's gain.