10/17/2001 11:00PM

Nayef likely Champions favorite

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Nayef, the most-talked about 2-year-old in Europe last year, seeks his first Group 1 victory in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday.

A half-brother to both Nashwan and Unfuwain, Nayef was at one point the winter favorite for both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby, but he did not come into full form until August, and since then he has landed a pair of Group 3 events in which has beaten a total of just six rivals.

This year's Champion, run over Newmarket's straight 1 1/4-mile course, lost some of its usual luster with the defections of Sakhee to the Breeders' Cup, Medicean to retirement, and Grandera to winter quarters. But it has picked up the Michael Stoute-trained Group 2 Celebration Mile winner, No Excuse Needed, who now misses his date in the Breeders' Cup Mile.

Nayef will be the favorite, but the selection here is Godolphin's undefeated Equerry. A 3-year-old half-brother, by St. Jovite, to Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies hopeful Tempera, Equerry reeled off three straight last year, including the Group 3 Prix des Chenes. He returned on Sept. 23 from a one-year absence to defeat subsequent Arc third Sagacity in the Group 3 Prix du Prince d'Orange at the Champion distance and can turn back Nayef with Jamie Spencer aboard.

Frankie Dettori will ride another Godolphin trainee, Best of the Bests. Absent since his disappointing eighth in the Dubai World Cup, Best of the Bests probably needs a race after such a long layoff.

Aidan O'Brien has four of the eight entries in the seven-furlong Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes. Rock of Gibraltar, highly impressive when taking the Group 1 Grand Criterium at Longchamp two weeks ago, has an edge over stablemates Landseer, Tendulkar, and Shah Jehan.