07/20/2007 12:00AM

Plenty of room at the top


NEW YORK - A midterm report from Europe finds early-season 3-year-old leaders being eclipsed by some promising late bloomers, while the older-horse division is in flux with the retirement of Rail Link and the repeated failures of George Washington.

The 3-year-old colt season got off to a bad start with the retirement of Holy Roman Emperor. It got worse when the horse who had beaten him twice as a 2-year-old, Teofilo, failed to make it back from a series of springtime setbacks. Cockney Rebel looked good winning what is turning out to be a subpar 2000 Guineas, but was less impressive winning the Irish edition three weeks later. In the French 2000 Guineas, Astronomer Royal beat Creachadoir by only a half-length, the same distance by which Cockney Rebel beat Creachadoir in the Irish 2000. Royal Ascot's St. James's Palace Stakes fulfilled its role as a one-mile 3-year-old final by featuring Cockney Rebel, Astronomer Royal, and Creachadoir, but they were all upset by French 2000 fourth Excellent Art, who defeated English 2000 fourth Duke of Marmalade by a half-length. Astronomer Royal was third, Cockney Rebel fifth, and Creachadoir sixth.

You could throw a blanket over that bunch, none of whom can lay a convincing claim to the European 3-year-old mile championship at this stage. That honor may belong to Lawman, the French Derby winner who cut back from his victory in that 1 5/16-mile classic to win the one-mile Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly by three lengths. Astronomer Royal was only fourth in that race, beaten 8 1/2 lengths. By the talented young sire Invincible Spirit, Lawman, a half-brother to French Oaks winner Latice, will try older horses for the first time in the always revelatory Prix Jacques le Marois going a straight mile at Deauville on Aug. 12. His trainer, Jean-Marie Beguigne, has hinted he may eventually try him at 1 1/2 miles in the Arc.

This may be just the year for an eight- to 10-furlong type like Lawman to try the Arc, as many of Europe's better 12-furlong horses are experiencing difficulties. Authorized, the impressive five-length winner of the Epsom Derby, fell afoul of the unwritten rule about not running a Derby winner in the 1 1/4-mile Eclipse. Since Nashwan became the last Derby winner to double up in the Eclipse in 1989, Erhaab, Benny the Dip, and Motivator have all finished second in the shorter race. That is exactly where Authorized finished this year in his misguided attempt to increase his breeding value by winning a 10-furlong Group 1. His Eclipse exertions so exhausted him, he has been declared out of the more prestigious and more valuable 1 1/2-mile King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes on July 28 in favor of the 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International on Aug. 21.

Coupled with Authorized's Eclipse defeat, Soldier of Fortune's nine-length Irish Derby victory may well have vaulted him to the top of the 3-year-old middle-distance pile - although Zambezi Sun, the five-length winner of the Grand Prix de Paris last Saturday, might argue that point. Soldier of Fortune, an Aidan O'Brien-trained son of Galileo, could challenge older stablemate Dylan Thomas in the King George, but with Authorized out of the race and last year's Arc winner Rail Link retired, Ascot's midsummer feature is not creating the kind of excitement it usually does. Ladbrokes has installed Dylan Thomas as its 4-5 King George favorite despite the fact that he has been beaten in his last two outings, in the Tattersalls Gold Cup and the Prince of Wales's Stakes.

On the 3-year-old filly scene, Finsceal Beo's 1000 Guineas victories at Newmarket and the Curragh were tempered by her dull eighth behind the soft-ground-loving Indian Ink in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. There may be more talent among middle-distance fillies, where Peeping Fawn avenged a narrow English Oaks loss to Light Shift with a 3 1/2-length victory for O'Brien in the Irish Oaks, that one coming after her win in the Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes. Peeping Fawn and Light Shift are slated for a rubber match in the 1 1/4-mile Nassau Stakes at Goodwood on Aug. 4, and both look like viable Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf candidates.

The retirements of Invasor and Rail Link have opened a lot of doors on both sides of the Atlantic for lesser lights to step up in the older horse division. In Europe, Prince of Wales winner Manduro and Eclipse winner Notnowcato could be the big beneficiaries, although neither appears to be an absolutely first-class Group 1 type. Ditto Dylan Thomas, who loses more often than he should. George Washington, just fourth in his return in the Queen Anne Stakes after his unfortunate spell at stud, failed for the second time to stay 1 1/4 miles when third in the Eclipse. Ballydoyle/Coolmore is hardly treating George Washington like the champion he is. Perhaps the temperamental miler dislikes being forced into races to which he is unsuited, like the Eclipse and the Breeders' Cup Classic, and wishes he were back in the pastures away from the pressures of fulfilling John Magnier's big dreams.

George Washington will skip Goodwood's one-mile Group 1 Sussex Stakes on Aug. 1, but his stablemate Excellent Art will line up against Godolphin's Queen Anne winner Ramonti and the exciting 9 1/2-length UAE Derby winner Asiatic Boy, the Argentine-bred who could be this year's version of Invasor. Still trained by South African Mike de Kock, Asiatic Boy is holed up at Geoff Wragg's yard at Newmarket, from where it is hoped he will give the European season a much-needed jolt.