08/07/2008 11:00PM

Look to France for key Cup prep


NEW YORK – The Prix du Moulin de Longchamp on Sept. 7 is shaping up as the definitive European prep for this year’s Breeders’ Cup. The one-mile Group 1 affair is attracting the attention of Henrythenavigator and Goldikova, both of whom have been committed to Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, but not for the same race.

The world’s best miler by dint of four Group 1 victories at that distance this year, most recently in the Sussex Stakes on July 30, Henrythenavigator has been named to the Breeders’ Cup Classic by trainer Aidan O’Brien. Goldikova, who beat two of the best fillies in training in Darjina and Natagora in last Sunday’s Group 1 Prix Rothschild (formerly the Astarte), was immediately targeted by trainer Freddy Head and her owners the Wertheimer brothers for the Breeders’ Cup Mile after her Deauville heroics.

Both will bypass next Sunday’s Deauville centerpiece, the Prix Jacques le Marois, in favor of the Moulin, in which Goldikova is expected to renew rivalry with both Darjina and Natagora, neither of whom can be excluded from Breeders’ Cup contention, although their connections have not yet committed them to a specific autumn campaign. Darjina won last year’s Moulin as a 3-year-old, and it was taken by Rock of Gibraltar on his way to a luckless second in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Arlington Park.

The straight mile of the Jacques le Marois is normally one of the most revealing of European races vis-a-vis the Breeders’ Cup. Miesque, Spinning World, Six Perfections and Domedriver have all used victory in it on their roads to Breeders’Cup Mile glory. Banks Hill won it before finishing second in the Moulin in her final start prior to winning in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf.

The four Moulin principals are all nominated to the Jacques le Marois as well, but the Moulin timing is better for all of them. That leaves Hamdan al-Maktoum’s Prix Jean Prat winner Tamayuz, like Goldikova trained by Freddy Head, as the leading candidate for the Marois.

Henrythenavigator’s declaration for the Breeders’ Cup Classic was made by O’Brien with the rider that he would continue to run in one-mile turf races in Europe until then. A tilt at the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Sept. 27 could serve as Henry’s Classic trial. That route worked well for the O’Brien-trained Giant’s Causeway prior to his narrow loss to Tiznow in the 2000 Classic.

O’Brien and many other European trainers are probably happier than some of their American counterparts with the decision to hold the next two Breeders’ Cups at Santa Anita. Winning big races on dirt has always been a difficult task for British, Irish and French invaders, so Santa Anita’s synthetic track, a surface with which Eurpoeans are more familiar than dirt, and which rides so much more like turf, must appear inviting to them.

By Kingmambo out of the Group 1-winning Irish Oaks fourth Sequoyah, and so a full brother to French Oaks third Queen Cleopatra, Henrythenavigator should be able to stay the 10 furlongs of the Classic. O’Brien had considered him for a number of 1 1/4- and 1 1/2-mile races in Europe this season before deciding upon a mile program as the best way to prepare for the Classic.

While the French are enjoying the myriad delights of Deauville this month, many of France’s best horses are in the midst of their annual summer vacations. Most intriguing among them are two trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe favorites Zarkava and Montmartre. Or at least Zarkava is the Arc favorite, as Montmartre, the easy winner of the Grand Prix de Paris over the Arc course and distance, was taken out of the Arc betting by some bookies, among them Ladbrokes, after Royer-Dupre said last week that his Montjeu colt came out of the Grand Prix stiff and might not make the Arc, although he is still trying to get him there on the first Sunday in October.

When he is included in the betting, Montmartre is generally available at 7-2. His stablemate, the undefeated Zarkava, resting after her supremely confident win in the French Oaks, is on offer at 9-2 with those firms as she awaits her Sept. 14 return to the races in the Prix Vermeille, a course and distance Arc prep that will be her first try at 1 1/2 miles. There is a growing feeling that Zarkava, owned by the Aga Khan and by Zamindar out of a mare by Epsom Derby winner and excellent broodmare sire Kahyasi, is more than just out of the ordinary and could provide the racing world with some big thrills this fall.