09/02/2005 12:00AM

Westerner preps for Arc in Germany


The countdown to the autumn international racing season begins in earnest with Group 1 action on three fronts in Europe on Sunday, at Baden-Baden in Germany, Longchamp in France, and The Curragh in Ireland.

Europe's best stayer, Westerner, will test the Arc waters with a cutback to 1 1/2 miles in the $903,000 Grosser Preis von Baden at Baden-Baden. The winner of nine group races at 1 7/8 miles or beyond, five of them at the Group 1 level, the Elie Lellouche-trained Westerner has been rested since taking the 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup on June 16 at York. Victorious in his last six starts, Westerner will go in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Oct. 2 if he is successful at Baden-Baden.

In Warrsan he faces a defending champ who has been out of the first three in all of his seven starts since last year's Grosser Preis von Baden. Cherry Mix, unraced since finishing 10th in the Dubai Sheema Classic on March 26, has a lot of ground to make up if he is to recapture the form that saw him finish second to Bago in last year's Arc. Prospect Park, 16th as the favorite in last year's Arc, prepped nicely for this with a handy allowance score, while Czech invader Darsalam is coming off a victory in the 1 1/2-mile Group 1 Rheinland-Pokal.

Among the German-trained horses, the 3-year-old filly Gonbarda, recent winner of the 1 1/2-mile Group 1 Deutschlandpreis against older colts, has a better chance than German Derby winner Nicaron, who was only fourth behind Darsalam last time.

A number of Breeders' Cup Mile possibles will line up for the $375,000 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, among them Valixir, third behind Dubawi in the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville three weeks ago. Trained by Andre Fabre, Valixir will have firmer ground on Sunday than he had at Deauville, when his three-race winning streak came to an end. Another Fabre horse, Cacique, will be a threat if he can steal away onto an easy lead, like he did when winning the Group 3 Prix du Chemin de Fer du Nord last time on June 12.

Starcraft, a multiple Group 1 winner in Australia and New Zealand, has failed to find his best stride in two starts in England this summer. Altieri, twice a Group 1 winner going 1 1/4 miles in Italy and third behind Oratorio and Motivator in the Eclipse Stakes last time, may find the cut back to a mile too sharp, but the 3-year-old filly Gorella, winner of the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham and third last time to Divine Proportions in the Group 1 Prix d'Astarte, has a good chance to crack the first three.

It is not very difficult to figure Rumplestiltskin as the winner of The Curragh's Group 1 feature, the seven-furlong $375,000 Moyglare Stud Stakes. An Aidan O'Brien-trained daughter of Danehill, Rumplestiltskin was a course and distance winner on Aug. 7 when taking the Group 2 Debutante Stakes. On Sunday she is in against a very modest bunch of juvenile fillies.