07/11/2005 11:00PM

Scorpion vulnerable in Paris


All of Paris used to stop for the Grand Prix de Paris, where as many as 100,000 people would pack the grandstand and infield at Longchamp - until World War II put an end to such frivolity. On Thursday, the most historically important race on the French calendar will sport a new look as the highlight of a festive Bastille Day evening meeting, to which admission is free.

From its inception in 1863, the Grand Prix de Paris was run at a distance of 1 7/8 miles or 1 15/16 miles, until 1987, when it was reduced to 1 1/4 miles to reflect the growing lack of interest in staying races. This year, the race has been jacked up to 1 1/2 miles as part of a controversial overhaul of the 3-year-old program by the French racing authority, France-Galop.

The Grand Prix de Paris, at its old distance of 1 1/4 miles, was won by four subsequent Arc winners in Saumarez, Subotica, Peintre Celebre, and Bago.

While maintaining its Group 1 status, this year's Grand Prix de Paris will be worth a record $603,000, yet it has failed to attract a single European Derby or Oaks winner. The closest to a marquee name in the nine-runner field is Scorpion, an Aidan O'Brien trainee who recently was second by a half-length to Hurricane Run in the Irish Derby and second by a head to Im Spartacus in the Group 3 Gallinule Stakes.

Susan Magnier and Michael Tabor have supplemented Scorpion at a cost of $36,200, yet he appears vulnerable to local favorite Desideratum.

Trained by Andre Fabre, Desideratum has won three in a row over the Grand Prix course and distance. Most recently, on June 21, he was a one-length winner of the Group 3 Prix du Lys over Orion Star, who has also been supplemented and will wear blinkers for the first time Thursday. From the family of the legendary broodmare Fall Aspen, Desideratum is owned by Sheikh Mohammed, will be ridden by Christophe Soumillon, and is progressive enough to land the spoils.

John Gosden will saddle the lone British raider in Plea Bargain. By Machiavellian, Plea Bargain is a maternal grandson of the broodmare Time Charter, a three-time Group 1 winner at 1 1/2 miles who died last Thursday at age 26. Plea Bargain followed his neck second in the Group 2 Prix Greffulhe with a victory in the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot at York and will race as part of an entry with Desideratum.

Fabre also has the improving but untested Bellamy Cay running in the colors of Khalid Abdullah, whose Juddmonte Farms sponsors the race.