05/31/2001 11:00PM

Maille Pistol iffy on firmer going


Maille Pistol, rated by French provincial master Jean-Claude Rouget as "the best mile-and-a-half horse I have ever trained," is the one to beat in the $903,000 Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) at Chantilly Sunday.

Unbeaten in three starts this season, Maille Pistol was a six-length winner of both the 1 5/16-mile Prix Greffulhe on April 15 and the 1 1/2-mile Prix Hocquart on May 10. In those two races he left two of his Jockey-Club foes, Chichicastenango and Sagacity, struggling in his wake.

But those victories came on heavy ground, and the turf at Chantilly on Sunday is expected to be good. While Rouget has expressed no concerns about the ground, the going could bring Maille Pistol back to his thirteen rivals.

Anabaa Blue might benefit most. The Carlos Lerner trainee took the 1 3/8-mile Prix Noailles on very heavy ground in April but was just a neck second to Chichicastenango in a paceless 1 5/16-mile Prix Lupin on good ground on May 13. A fast early pace will help him immeasurably.

Sagacity, winner of the 1 1/4-mile Criterium de Saint-Cloud at two, could not beat Maille Pistol on his preferred soft ground in the Hocquart, so even the expert ministrations of Andre Fabre and Olivier Peslier may be of little avail.

Chichicastenango is the black sheep in this prestigious Group 1 contest. Unfashionably bred - he is by Smadoun out of an Antheus mare - he won the Lupin but was nine lengths behind Maille Pistol in the Greffulhe.

Listed race winners Sensible and Doctorate are each 2-for-2 this year, but the upsetters could be either $51,600 supplementary entry Marichal or Gary Tanaka's Art Contemporain, both of whom have won at the Jockey-Club distance of 1 1/2 miles.

Godolphin will employ Jamie Spencer in place of the suspended Frankie Dettori aboard their listed winner Musha Merr, while Aidan O'Brien will saddle Milan, third behind Chichicastenango and Anabaa Blue in the Lupin. Grandera, part-owned by Lael Stable, will provide a clue to the value of Belmont Stakes-bound Dr Greenfield, who beat him by half a length in the Dee Stakes.

In the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat, O'Brien's undefeated King of Tara is the selection over Prix de Fontaine-bleau winner and French 2000 Guineas fourth Denon in a sub-par five-runner renewal of this 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds.

Fairy King Prawn travels from Hong Kong to Tokyo in search of a repeat of his historic triumph in the one-mile, $1.5 million, Grade 1 Yasuda Kinen on Sunday. Standing in the way of the Ivan Allan-trained runner are recent Keio Hai Spring Cup winner Stinger and top Japanese sprinter Trot Star. Kent Desormeaux has the call on longshot Matikane Kinnohosi.