04/05/2010 11:00PM

Special Duty facing talented foes

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Special Duty, the champion juvenile filly in Europe in 2009, embarks on what owner Khalid Abdullah and trainer Criquette Head-Maarek hope will be a highly lucrative 3-year-old campaign at Maisons-Laffitte on Thursday in the Group 3, $108,000 Prix Imprudence. A British-bred daughter of Hennessy, Special Duty is using the straight seven furlongs of the Imprudence as a prep for the classic 1000 Guineas at Newmarket on May 2, but she could hardly have found a tougher spot for her first start in six months.

Last year Special Duty beat colts in the 5 1/2-furlong, Group 2 Prix Robert Papin at Maisons-Laffitte, and was just a short neck second to Arcano in the six-furlong, Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville before her smashing 2 3/4-length victory in the six-furlong, Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes back against her own sex at Newmarket on Oct. 2. Yet the Imprudence, which was won by the Pascal Bary-trained Natagora before her 1000 Guineas triumph two years ago, is loaded with talent. The Jean-Claude Rouget-trained Joanna won the seven-furlong, Group 3 Prix du Calvados at Deauville and was two lengths third in the one-mile, Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp on Arc Day. Lixirova was trained by David Smaga to win the Group 3 Prix Miesque over the Imprudence course and distance on Nov. 3. And Saying, trained by Freddy Head and a daughter of Giant's Causeway and Pas de Reponse - who won both the Cheveley Park and the Imprudence as a racing filly - is coming off an Oct. 18 victory at Longchamp in the listed, seven-furlong Prix Herod.

Head-Maarek is no stranger to the Imprudence, as she has won it 10 times. Two of those winners, Ma Biche in 1983 and Ravinella in 1988, followed with victories in the 1000 Guineas, so there is good reason to believe that Special Duty will be able to handle the stern test she faces on Thursday when Stephane Pasquier takes his usual place in the saddle.

The colt equivalent to the Imprudence, the Prix Djebel, has been upgraded to Group 3 status this year, but looks very much like a lesser race at this early stage. Richard Gibson has trained Ricci to three victories in as many starts, including a pair of one-mile allowances at Compiegne. Makfi is the least exposed of the eight runners, having one at first asking in a seven-furlong Fontainebleau maiden for Mikel Delzangles on Nov. 27.

In the listed, 1 1/8-mile, Prix Jacques Laffitte, all eyes will be on the Head-Maarek-trained Fuisse, who has been sidelined since finishing second in the French Derby on June 7.