08/08/2008 12:00AM

O'Brien, Head clash in France

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Europe's two hottest trainers, Aidan O'Brien and Freddy Head, square off in the $383,000 Prix Maurice de Gheest, a 6 1/2-furlong Group 1 dash at Deauville on Sunday.

Head, the winner of three Group 1 races in the last month, will saddle the recent July Cup winner and two-time defending Maurice de Gheest titleholder, Marchand d'Or, while O'Brien, who has won 17 Group 1 contests since April 27, sends out the July Cup runner-up US Ranger.

Marchand d'Or, who closed with a rush to nip US Ranger by a head at Newmarket that day, will have Davy Bonilla on board. US Ranger, who finally seems to be getting the knack of sprint racing, will have Johnny Murtagh at the controls. O'Brien will also saddle Group 3 sprint winner Astronomer Royal. Two recent Group 3 winners in England, Utmost Respect and Intrepid Jack, along with Jumbajukiba, a three-time Group 3 winner in Ireland, will keep the two favorites on their toes. Diabolical, 1 1/2 lengths sixth in the July Cup, is winless since taking the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal by 4 1/2 lengths at Nad Al Sheba on March 6.

* Zulu Chief, an O'Brien-trained half-brother to European champion miler Hawk Wing and a full to Irish Group 3 winner Race for the Stars, will be tested in the Group 2, $191,000 Royal Whip Stakes at the Curragh on Sunday. By Fusaichi Pegasus out of Canadian filly champion La Lorgnette, Zulu Chief was the 20-length winner of a Naas maiden in his second start on July 9 at the Royal Whip distance of 1 1/4 miles.