04/03/2009 12:00AM

French star tunes up for bigger objectives


French Derby winner Vision d'Etat makes his seasonal debut in the Group 2, $175,000 Prix d'Harcourt at Longchamp on Sunday, but trainer Eric Libaud has warned that this 1 1/4-mile stakes is very much a prep for more important races down the road.

The 4-year-old Vision d'Etat followed his French Derby triumph with victory in the Group 2 Prix Niel and a troubled fifth behind Zarkava in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, his only loss in seven career starts. He appears to have a class edge in the Harcourt but will be challenged by Court Canibal and Diyakalanie, recently one-two in the Group 3 Prix Exbury. In fact, all eight of Vision d'Etat's rivals save Diyakalanie are stakes winners. Loup Breton, Prospect Wells, and Trincot have won at the Group 2 level, while La Boum and Never on Sunday have been successful in Group 3's.

The road to this year's French Derby, to be run at Chantilly on June 7, begins at Longchamp on Sunday with a modest renewal of the Group 2, $175,000 Prix Noailles at 1 1/4 miles. The Elie Lellouche-trained Wajir merits favoritism by virtue of his March 14 victory in the listed 1 5/16-mile Prix Maurice Caillault. Calvados Blues took the one-mile, Group 3 Prix des Chenes in September by a half-length from recent UAE Derby sixth-place finisher Naval Officer, but the Lando colt failed in his next two outings. Jean-Claude Rouget will saddle the dangerous Grandcamp, a son of Platini who is in form after a pair of Cagnes-sur-Mer allowance scores at 1 1/4 miles. Aidan O'Brien has his fingers crossed for maiden winner Golden Sword and the maiden Crowfoot.

A pair of 1 3/8-mile conditions races on the Longchamp card could be revealing classic preps. In the Prix de Ferrieres for colts, recent maiden winner and Freddie Head trainee Ile de Re squares off with the Andre Fabre-trained Claremont, a son of Sadler's Wells and Prix Vermeille winner Mezzo Soprano. In the Prix de Croissy for fillies, the Fabre-trained Heart of Ice, a half-sister to La Prevoyante winner Herboriste and an October winner in her only start, faces the Lellouche-trained Board Meeting, a half-sister to Prix de l'Opera and Prix d'Astarte winner Bright Sky, who was the three-quarter-length runner-up to Heart of Ice in her debut.

* On the other side of the world, Viva Pataca will prep for his April 26 date in the 1 1/4-mile Queen Elizabeth II Cup in the $387,000 Chairman's Trophy, a Group 2 mile at Sha Tin, where he will be tested by Group 1 mile runner-up Fellowship.