09/11/2008 11:00PM

Zarkava faces twin test

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Zarkava, undefeated and largely untested in five career starts, will put her classy credentials as favorite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on the line at Longchamp on Sunday when she returns from a 14-week summer vacation in the Prix Vermeille.

A course-and-distance Arc prep valued at $418,000, the Group 1 Vermeille will be the 3-year-old Zarkava's first try at 1 1/2 miles as well as her first meeting with older females. Yet neither of those factors should deter Zarkava, an Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained daughter of Zamindar. She displayed a truly remarkable turn of foot winning both the one-mile French 1000 Guineas and the 1 5/16-mile French Oaks this spring. A homebred who races for the Aga Khan, she is as low as 3-1 for the Arc and could go off at pinched odds of 1-2 for the Vermeille, in which she will be partnered with regular rider Christophe Soumillon.

Zarkava's task will not be an easy one, as the Vermeille has attracted at least six others with winning chances. Folk Opera, owned by Godolphin, is coming off a score in Deauville's 1 1/4-mile Group 2 Prix Jean Romanet. The Andre Fabre-trained Treat Gently has won the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Prix de Malleret. John Gosden will saddle Dar Re Mi, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Group 3 Prix Minerve and runner-up in the 1 1/2-mile Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, along with Michita, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes.

An Aidan O'Brien-trained trio is led by Ice Queen, runner-up by a short head in the Irish Oaks. Fabre also has Gagnoa, three-length runner-up in the French Oaks, in the lineup.

The Group 2, $181,000 Prix Niel is the Arc prep for 3-year-old colts. Vision d'Etat, like Zarkava unbeaten in five career starts, returns off a 15-week layoff since having won the 1 5/16-mile French Derby by a head on June 1. A Chichicastenango colt rained by Eric Libaud, Vision d'Etat is a question mark in his first try at 1 1/2 miles, especially as he and rider Ioritz Mendizabal will be facing the Gosden-trained Centennial, winner of Newmarket's 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes. Centennial might have started as the favorite in Saturday's St. Leger Stakes but was not nominated to that classic, and so goes in this no less difficult spot.

The O'Brien-trained King of Rome won the 1 1/4-mile Group 2 Royal Whip Stakes last time, while Fabre will saddle the dangerous Prospect Wells, the winner of the 1 1/4-mile Group 2 Prix Greffulhe in May and second by four lengths to the sidelined Montmartre in the 1 1/2-mile Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris in July. In between, however, he was only eighth in Vision d'Etat's French Derby.

Ideal World, trained by Fabre for Khalid Abdullah, is a Kingmambo-Banks Hill allowance winner who was a close fourth in the 1 1/4-mile Group 2 Prix Eugene Adam but may not be ready for prime time.

The Group 2, $181,000 Prix Foy for older horses is conspicuous by the absence of O'Brien's leading Arc hopefuls, Soldier of Fortune and Duke of Marmalade. If Schiaparelli, a three-time Group 1 winner in Germany and Italy last year, is ready off an 11-month absence in his first race for Godolphin, he could win this subpar Arc trial.

Zambezi Sun, disappointing since winning last year's Grand Prix de Paris, and Crossharbour, a Group 3 runner-up, will not be overmatched, but the real danger is the 4-year-old filly Avanti Polonia, winner of the 1 9/16-mile Group 2 Prix de Pomone at Deauville for the red-hot Freddy Head.