04/28/2004 11:00PM

Whipper has shot at rare French win in Guineas

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French invader Whipper can thrash the English home team in the 2000 Guineas Stakes, the first classic race of the European season, at Newmarket on Saturday.

Trainer Robert Collet prepared Whipper perfectly for the straight mile of the $531,000 Guineas with an eight-length score in the listed Prix Djebel over Maisons-Laffitte's straight seven-furlong course on April 6. Winner of the Group 1 Prix Morny and the Group 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte at 2, Whipper is attempting to become the first French-trained horse to win the 2000 Guineas since Pennekamp in 1995. If the ground is softened by the further predicted rain at Newmarket this weekend, his narrow edge over 13 rivals will only increase.

Christophe Soumillon will break the 8-1 Whipper from post 8, which is ideal, but dangers lurk everywhere, including the 2-1 favorite One Cool Cat.

Aidan O'Brien has elected to send One Cool Cat, a two-time Group 1 winner, to the Guineas without the benefit of a prep race. This is the same route he took with his two previous 2000 Guineas winners, King of Kings and Rock of Gibraltar, so One Cool Cat must be feared despite not having run since Sept. 14.

Dermot Weld has warned that the undefeated Grey Swallow, who struggled to win his listed prep at Leopardstown two weeks ago, may not be quite ready for the Guineas. Another Irish challenger, Azamour, trained by John Oxx for the Aga Khan, was a Group 3 winner going a mile last fall and would appreciate more rain for his seasonal debut.

Haafhd and Salford City, impressive winners of the two major British preps for the Guineas, both have outstanding claims in this 196th running of the Guineas, which has served as a template for one-mile classics around the world. Haafhd gave Three Valleys a five-length beating over the Guineas course and distance in the Group 3 Craven Stakes. Salford City, the unbeaten winner of the Group 3 Greenham Stakes at Newbury on April 17, will be a sentimental favorite.

Still hurting from the death on the track of his popular stayer Persian Punch in the Sagaro Stakes at Ascot on Wednesday, Salford City's trainer, David Elsworth, rates Salford City as good as his multiple Group 1 winning filly In the Groove. A victory by the 9-2 Salford City, who will be ridden by Johnny Murtagh, would be a popular one.

Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes winner Snow Ridge, who cruised home by 10 lengths in a private Nad Al Sheba trial for Godolphin, must also be considered with Frankie Dettori aboard.

* Storm warnings are out for Nebraska Tornado in the one-mile Group 2 Prix du Muguet, Saint-Cloud's traditional May Day feature. Trained by Andre Fabre for Khalid Abdullah, Nebraska Tornado won the French Oaks last June, then beat older colts in the one-mile Prix du Moulin de Longchamp. Gary Stevens has the ride on Nebraska Tornado.