Sprints Head Weekend Action in Europe

Retrieval missions will be high on the agenda in some of the major races in Europe this weekend, when Whipper and Somnus both seek to return to winning ways in the Prix Maurice de Gheest (Fr-I) Sunday while Damson, Ireland's champion juvenile filly of last season, is dropped back to 6 furlongs for the Patrick P O'Leary Memorial Phoenix Stakes (Ire-III).

The 6 1/2 furlong Maurice de Gheest at Deauville will determine whether Whipper, a 4-year-old by Miesque's Son owned by Robert Strauss and bred by Flaxman Holdings, bids for a repeat victory in the Prix Fresnay-le-Buffard-Jacques Le Marois (Fr-I) Aug. 14. That race promises to be the mile showdown of the season so far, with the Classic-winning three-year-olds Divine Proportions and Dubawi also lined up for the race, along with the group I-winning 4-year-old Valixir.

Whipper's trainer Robert Collet said of the Deauville specialist, who has won group 1 races there as both a 2 and 3-year-old: "He did an outstanding gallop the other day and I hope he can make it a third group 1. The following week's Jacques le Marois will be a bonus."

Whipper was only beaten a neck in last year's Maurice de Gheest by the Gary Stevens ridden Somnus, who is one of 18 horses lining up for this year's race.

A horse who thrives on soft ground, Somnus won two group I races in France last year – the other being the Prix de la Foret in October – but has disappointed in his two starts this season, most recently when 13th of 19 behind Pastoral Pursuits in the Darley July Cup (Eng-I). "I don't know what it is about him but he's never run well at Newmarket. But he's in great form ahead of Sunday's race," his trainer Tim Easterby said.

Having been an ante-post favorite for the One Thousand Guineas (Eng-I), Damson missed that race after a poor scope and has been out of the frame in two group I starts over a mile this season. Her trainer David Wachman said plans for the Entrepreneur filly would depend on her performance Sunday.

A further indication of the merit of Aidan O'Brien's 2-year-old team will be provided on the same Curragh card in the Independent Waterford Wedgewood Stakes (Ire-I) over 6 furlongs, for which last year's European sales topper George Washington and July Stakes (Eng II) – both by Danehill - are among his options.