10/07/2008 11:00PM

Zarkava's absence leaves weak field


PARIS - With Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Zarkava through for the season, the Breeders' Cup Turf will lack a little luster this year without the world's best 1 1/2-mile horse. The Aga Khan's brilliant 3-year-old filly is light years ahead of anything that will be running in the Turf, which will suffer from her absence.

Zarkava was given an official rating of 127 for her Arc triumph, the highest granted to any 3-year-old filly since 1996. The Breeders' Cup Turf, the Japan Cup, and the Hong Kong Vase all look like consolation races for the world's best 12-furlong runners from this point on.

Aidan O'Brien, as per usual, is chanting his "keeping all options open" mantra. Soldier of Fortune, who finished in a dead heat for third in the Arc (a position he might lose if the appeal of the connections of his fellow third, It's Gino, contesting the dead-heat decision is successful) becomes Europe's leading Turf hopeful. His Arc effort was a good one, considering that he had not run since finishing second in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud on June 29. The Arc would have set him up perfectly for the Turf, and it must be believed that he will be at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, given Coolmore's desire to shine on Breeders' Cup Day.

Duke of Marmalade had his five-race Group 1 winning streak broken in the Arc and is a Turf possible. Throughout the summer, however, O'Brien has always suggested that he would be aimed at the Classic instead.

The name of Eagle Mountain was thrown into the Turf ring this week by his South African trainer, Mike de Kock. Formerly trained by Aidan O'Brien, Eagle Mountain returned form a long absence to win the Group 3 Joel Stakes at Newmarket on Saturday, and while that race was only at a mile, it was good enough to confirm de Kock's belief that the stoutly bred Eagle Mountain was Turf material.

Red Rocks is beginning to look like a horse with problems. Arguably the best 1 1/2-mile horse based in America, the 2006 Turf winner has suffered some nagging setbacks since being switched from Brian Meehan, who trained him to a Man o' War defeat of Curlin, to Mark Hennig, who has yet to figure out what this horse is all about. If Red Rocks does make the Turf lineup, he will be a bad bet.

Not so for Grand Couturier, whose Turf Classic victory was visually astonishing, albeit against a weak bunch on soft ground that he will not encounter at Santa Anita. On his day, Grand Couturier is just below top class, even on firm ground, but that may be good enough to win a Turf that is not going to take any awards as the best Breeders' Cup race of 2008.

Andre Fabre, whose 20-year reign as France's leading trainer will end this year by dint of the huge Arc purse garnered by Zarkava for her trainer, Alain de Royer-Dupre, has two Turf possibilities waiting in the wings. Getaway didn't run badly in the Arc and could still make the trip to Santa Anita, although there is a feeling that he much prefers something longer than 1 1/2 miles.

More interesting from the Fabre stable is Ideal World, owned by Juddmonte Farm. A close second in the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Prix Niel to French Derby winner Vision d'Etat, Ideal World is a lightly raced 3-year-old who is improving at just the right time for a shot at the Breeders' Cup.

Champs Elysees, another Juddmonte runner, did himself no favors with his so-so effort in the Canadian International. If this husky, one-paced plodder couldn't win at Woodbine, he will have even more difficulty finding success around Santa Anita's bandbox-like turns.

Better Talk Now, an admirable old veteran, would be up against it even in a watered-down Breeders' Cup Turf, a race that is facing more and more competition from the Arc, the Japan Cup, and the Hong Kong Vase for international runners. With the American Turf contingent very much on the weak side, this year's Turf will not be raising many eyebrows.