10/05/2008 12:00AM

Zarkava a natural for the Arc

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PARIS - Zarkava, unbeaten and basically untested in six career starts, will shoot for the stars Sunday in the $5.5 million Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, where she has drawn the rail in a field of 16.

Having prepped perfectly on Sept. 14 with a victory in her first try against older fillies and mares in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille at the 1 1/2-mile Arc distance, Zarkava brings class, staying power and, perhaps best of all, a brilliant turn of foot to her role as Arc favorite. Trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre has guided her through a flawless exercise program during the last three weeks and will give Christophe Soumillon a leg up on this 3-year-old daughter of Zamindar.

Breaking from the rail may mean that Soumillon will have to work out a trip, but the Belgian rider will have plenty of time to get his late-running mount room to maneuver.

Winner of the French 1000 Guineas at a mile and the French Oaks at 1 5/16 miles, the versatile Zarkava is attempting to become the first filly since Urban Sea in 1993 to win the Arc. Her owner, the Aga Khan, last won with a filly in 1982 when Akiyda took the honors.

While this is not the hottest or deepest Arc in recent years, it is a competitive renewal. Chief among Zarkava's rivals are the Aidan O'Brien-trained pair of Duke of Marmalade and Soldier of Fortune.

Of the two, Duke of Marmalade looks to have the better chance. A Danehill 4-year-old who has won five Group 1 races this year, he was at his best when he defeated Papal Bull in the 1 1/2-mile King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Last time he was a handy winner of the 1 1/4-mile Juddmonte International Stakes, and while he then missed the Irish Champion Stakes because of heavy ground, he should be ready off a six-week absence.

Johnny Murtagh has chosen to ride Duke of Marmalade over Soldier of Fortune, who has not raced since finishing second in the Grand Prix de Paris on June 29. The winner of the Coronation Cup, he was fifth in last year's Arc, but it will be very difficult for this Galileo 4-year-old to win a race of this magnitude off such a long layoff.

Youmzain nearly caught Dylan Thomas in last year's Arc and beat Soldier of Fortune in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, but he has not run since July 26, when he was a well-beaten third in Duke of Marmalade's King George. Papal Bull, meanwhile, comes off a distant third against lesser in the Rheinland-Pokal and appears to be an inconsistent type.

The French Derby winner Vision d'Etat returned from a 3 1/2-month layoff to win the Group 2 Prix Niel over the Arc course and distance three weeks ago. A 3-year-old trained by Eric Libaud, he is still undefeated but would have to improve considerably to take first prize.

Zambezi Sun is a two-time winner over the course and distance but would prefer absolutely firm ground. A Pascal Bary-trained son of Dansili, he won't get it on Sunday, as the going was good to soft on Friday and will get no firmer by race day, and may even get a bit softer with periodic showers forecast for Paris until then.

Japanese racegoers will be out in force to back their favorite, Meisho Samson, but he is no Deep Impact, the horse who came home third in the 2006 Arc. Still, Meisho Samson could be a pace factor, and the Japanese will bet him down to a point where every other well-intended horse in the field could be a mild overlay.

Godolphin will be represented by the formerly German-trained Schiaparelli, and he is not without his chances, especially if the ground softens up. He was narrowly beaten by Zambezi Sun last time in the Prix Foy off a one-year absence and will be much better off for that effort with Frankie Dettori at the controls.

Two other horses with German credentials have dark-horse possibilities. Kamsin, trained by Peter Schiergen, won the German Derby and Grosser Preis von Baden, while Getaway, fourth at last year's Arc and now trained in France by Andre Fabre, returned to form winning the 1 9/16-mile Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville on Aug. 31.

But when all is said and done, Zarkava need only run her race to leave them all trailing in her wake.