03/08/2007 12:00AM

Montare heads Prix Exbury


Montare brings her tall reputation as an autumn horse to Saint-Cloud on Saturday for the initial group race of the European season, the $105,000 Prix Exbury, a 1 1/4-mile Group 3 contest that is being used as a possible springboard to the Dubai Sheema Classic by three of its 11 runners.

Owned by George Strawbridge, Montare is a 5-year-old daughter of Montjeu whose six career wins have all come between September and November. Last fall she followed a second-place finish to the redoubtable Mandesha in the 1 1/2-mile Group 1 Prix Vermeille with victories in the 1 9/16-mile Group 2 Prix de Royallieu and the 1 15/16-mile Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak. Trainer Jonathan Pease and rider Olivier Peslier must be concerned, however, with the heavy ground over which she has never run, as well as the cut back in distance.

Her opposition includes the Andre Fabre-trained Bellamy Cay, a Kris 5-year-old who beat Montare into second in the 1 3/4-mile Group 2 Prix Maurice de Nieuil last July before dropping a short-neck decision to her in the Royal-Oak. The John Hammond-trained Freedonia, winner of the 1 9/16-mile Group 2 Prix de Pomone before her Turf Classic second to English Channel at Belmont last fall, is the third Sheema Classic hopeful in the Exbury, but that trio may be vulnerable to Bellamy Cay's Khalid Abdullah-owned entrymate Runaway.

Second in the Group 3 Prix Andre Baboin last fall, Runaway may be the purest 1 1/4-mile horse in the field, although he has never faced the quality of competition he will meet in the Exbury, a Group 3 race with virtual Group 1 cachet.