10/29/2003 1:00AM

Whipper heads Criterium


The Group 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte on Friday boils down to a battle between three juvenile group race winners in Whipper, Villadolide, and Mokabra.

Whipper, who took the Group 1 Prix Morny at Deauville in August, holds a slight edge. Although only fifth last time in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, he was beaten by just two lengths and was closing fast behind Three Valleys. A son of Miesque's Son, Whipper should appreciate Maisons-Laffitte's straight seven furlongs.

Villadolide looked like a merely precocious filly when she won the 5 1/2-furlong Prix d'Arenberg, a Group 3 race, last month, but she improved and finished second in the 6 1/2-furlong Prix Eclipse, also a Group 3. Both those races were at Maisons-Laffitte, so Villadolide is well-prepared for a big effort.

Mokabra landed the Group 2 Maurice Lacroix Trophy, a six-furlong race at Baden-Baden on Sept. 5, but then finished sixth behind Milk It Mick in the Group 3 Somerville Tattersalls Stakes, a seven-furlong race at Newmarket.

Ximb, a listed winner at Deauville going seven furlongs, is looking to bounce back from a subpar effort in the seven-furlong Group 1 Prix Jean Luc-Lagardere, when he was promoted to third after having finished fifth behind American Post.