12/22/2008 1:00AM

Zilber, top French trainer, dies

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Legendary French trainer Maurice Zilber died on Thursday at the age of 87 after a long battle with cancer.

Born in Cairo, Egypt, where he began his career as a Thoroughbred trainer, Zilber in 1956 moved to France where many of his best horses were owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt, Daniel Wildenstein, and Marcel Boussac.

France's leading trainer in 1968 and 1969, Zilber enjoyed a phenomenal decade during the 1970s. His best horse was the Hunt-owned Dahlia. She was British champion in 1973 and 1974, winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes both years and the Grand Prix de Paris in 1974. She won Laurel's D.C. International in 1973 and was named Eclipse Award winner as best turf horse a year later after victories in the Man o' War Stakes and the Canadian International.

Zilber would win three more D.C. Internationals: with Nobiliary in 1975, Youth in 1976, and Argument in 1980. In 1977 he won a second Canadian International with Exceller before that horse was switched to Charlie Whittingham, for whom he would beat Seattle Slew in a memorable Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Zilber won the Epsom Derby and the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) in the same year, turning the trick in 1976 with Youth and Empery. He never won a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe but was runner-up in 1978 with Trillion, who a year later would win the Eclipse Award as best female turf runner without winning a race in North America, as she finished second in the Canadian International, the Turf Classic, the Oak Tree Invitational, and the D.C. International.

Zilber trained for Khaldid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms in the latter part of his career before retiring in 2005.