10/02/2007 11:00PM

Juvenile Group 1s set stage for Arc weekend

EmailThe biggest weekend of the European racing season gets under way Friday at Newmarket with the running of two key juvenile Group 1s, the Middle Park Stakes for colts and the Cheveley Park Stakes for fillies. Both run at six furlongs and worth $347,000, they kick off a three-day cross-channel cornucopia of championship-class racing that will climax on Sunday at Longchamp with the 86th running of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The Middle Park will be a showdown between Sir Gerry and Dark Angel. A Carson City Kentucky-bred trained by James Fanshawe, Sir Gerry took the six-furlong Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at York, while Dark Angel, an Acclamation colt trained by Barry Hills, won Newbury's six-furlong Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes. Dark Angel has also won York's $600,000 St. Leger Yearling Stakes, but the preference is for Sir Gerry, who has greater room for improvement in just his fourth start.

Mill Reef runner-up Strike the Deal is a Group 2 winner himself, having taken the six-furlong Richmond Stakes at Goodwood, while the first two home in Doncaster's $600,000 St. Leger 2YO Stakes, Dream Eater and Achilles of Troy, bring added depth to a race from which Johannesburg vaulted to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 2001.

In the Cheveley Park, the speedy and precocious Fleeting Spirit is coming off a win against colts in the five-furlong Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes. More tellingly, Fleeting Spirit had previously won the five-furlong Group 3 Molecomb Stakes in which she defeated Kingsgate Native, the subsequent winner of the Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes against older horses. The question facing the Jeremy Noseda-trained Fleeting Spirit is whether she can handle the step up to six furlongs.

That is also the question being asked of Natagora. A Pascal Bary-trained French invader, Natagora beat colts in the 5 1/2-furlong Group 2 Prix Robert Papin, but was two lengths second last time to Myboycharlie in the six-furlong Group 1 Prix Morny. Both she and Fleeting Spirit look vunerable to Visit. From the first crop of European sprint champion Oasis Dream, Visit won the six-furlong Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes at Ascot and was a fast-closing second in the six-furlong Group 2 Lowther Stakes at York. From the family of Hasili and Leroidesanimaux, Visit should get up in time for trainer Michael Stoute.

Getaway subs for Manduro in the Arc

Trainer Andre Fabre and owner Baron Georg von Ullman were heartbroken when their Arc favorite Manduro was forced into retirement after suffering an injury when winning the Prix Foy three weeks ago. They will, however, have an Arc runner on Sunday in Getaway, who will be supplemented to the $2.8 million contest for $85,000. Like Manduro, Getaway is a son of Monsun, but he has been running in staying races. Although his last two wins came in the Group 3 Prix de Lutece and the Group 2 Prix Kergorlay, both at 1 7/8 miles, Fabre is confident that Getaway, who revels on soft ground, can perform at the Group 1 level going 1 1/2 miles. The ground was still very soft at Longchamp on Wednesday after overnight rain saw the penetrometer move perilously close to heavy, as it deepened from 4.0 to 4.2.