03/27/2009 12:00AM

Strawbridge may hold strongest hand


NEW YORK - Newmarket, Chantilly, and the Curragh are just awakening from a long winter's rest these days as European trainers begin to crank up their 3-year-old hopefuls for the relatively short road to the first set of classics in early May.

Ironically, the owner with the most to be excited about is neither John Magnier nor Sheikh Mohammed, but George Strawbridge, the Pennsylvania proprietor of Augustin Stables who has himself the favorite for the 1000 Guineas and the first two favorites for the English Oaks.

His undefeated homebred Dynaformer filly Rainbow View is as low as 7-4 for the 1000 Guineas by virtue of four juvenile wins by a total of 16 1/2 lengths, the most impressive a 2 1/2-length score in the Fillies Mile, after which Strawbridge celebrated her championship season by buying insurance for his classic aspirations. In January he purchased the Fillies Mile runner-up, Fantasia, who is generally the fourth choice in the 1000 Guineas antepost market. Her Guineas prep for trainer Luca Cumani will come in Newmarket's Group 3 Nell Gwyn Stakes on April 15, but she is more likely to run in the French 1000 Guineas, as the John Gosden-trained Rainbow View is earmarked for the Newmarket Guineas.

As if that weren't enough for Strawbridge to get excited about, Rainbow View and Fantasia, a stoutly bred Sadler's Wells-Darshaan cross, are Ladbroke's first and second favorites for the English Oaks at 7-1 and 12-1, respectively.

Aidan O'Brien was accorded the privilege of working no fewer than 48 of his Ballydoyle trainees at the Curragh after racing last Sunday. They went in three separate groups, with Mastercraftsman, Ladbroke's

5-1 favorite for the 2000 Guineas, finishing fourth in one group in which Westphalia, the narrow Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up, was third. Westphalia is 16-1 for the Newmarket Guineas, but at this stage is more likely to head for the French 2000 instead.

The skies above the English Channel are crowded with Thoroughbreds traveling between England and France throughout the flat racing season, which in Europe really only begins in late March and is all but over by mid-November. One who is slated to be taking the France-to-England route is Naaqoos. The Freddie Head-trained winner of the Prix Jean Luc-Lagardere will use Maisons-Laffitte's listed seven-furlong Prix Djebel on April 10 as his trial for the 2000 Guineas. Crowded House, who was nominated to the Triple Crown as well as the Guineas by majority owner J. Paul Reddam, will stay at home in trainer Brian Meehan's Manton yard to prepare for the Newmarket Guineas, after which the Rainbow Quest colt will aim at the Epsom Derby, for which he is Ladbroke's 6-1 favorite.

With Nad Al Sheba facing a date with the wrecker's ball soon after Dubai World Cup Night, Godolphin has altered plans for shipping its Newmarket contingent from Dubai. With Nad Al Sheba's turf course unavailable, horses slated for early-season assignments in Europe will fly to England earlier than usual at the beginning of April so that they can get in some turf work on the Newmarket gallops. The rest of the Godolphin contingent won't leave Dubai until later in the month.

Among the leading older horses to remain in training this year, Breeders' Cup winners Conduit and Goldikova top the bill. Michael Stoute will point Conduit to all of the big 12-furlong races. Freddie Head plans to step Goldikova up a notch in distance for her 4-year-old debut in Longchamp's 1 1/8-mile, 55-yard Prix d'Ispahan.

Two exciting older horses to keep an eye on will be operating at opposite ends of the Thoroughbred spectrum. The 8-year-old Yeats will seek a record fourth straight victory in the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup for Aidan O'Brien. Meanwhile, the sensational, undefeated Hungarian-trained sprinter Overdose will return in a five-furlong event at Budapest's Kincsem Park on April 19. Trainer Sandor Ribarszki will then send him to Haydock Park for the Group 2 Temple Stakes on May 23 as a prep for either the King's Stand Stakes or the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot. Germany's championship sprint, the Group 2 Goldene Peitsche at Baden-Baden on Aug. 30, will serve as a prep for Overdose's second shot at the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp, a race he "won" last year before it was declared void due to a false start. After his Kincsem Park reappearance, Overdose will be ridden by two-time French champion Christophe Soumillon.

On the jockey front, Kieren Fallon, who spent the winter as an exercise rider at Santa Anita, is now riding work for Michael Stoute at Newmarket. Out of action due to a drug-related suspension since guiding Dylan Thomas to victory in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 7, 2007, the 44-year-old Irishman is eligible to return to race riding Sept. 5.