01/02/2004 12:00AM

Champions without prejudice

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NEW YORK - In today's global sporting world, national championship polls usually take on a provincial coloring.

While highlighting the best performers on dirt in a world in which at least 75 percent of the best races are run on turf, the Eclipse Awards exclude much of the cream of the world Thoroughbred crop.

The International Classifications do take into consideration horses from Europe and North America, plus those from Japan and Australia for which handicapping lines can be drawn, but the rating system of its august panel is somewhat suspect.

The International Classifications rates horses solely by their best performance, employing a system that, for example, allowed Maroof, the 66-1 winner of the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes in 1996, to be declared the best older horse in Europe, despite his otherwise mediocre record.

Perhaps it is time to institute a new system of gauging world champions, one that would contain the breadth of the International Classifications while also taking into account all of a horse's performances. That is the goal of this column which, it is hoped, will be found free of the national biases that so afflicts the British-dominated International Classifications.

Employing the Classifications' five distance categories, but lumping together 3-year-olds and older horses, the rating of the top three in each category is the weight that the horses would carry in a handicap - with weight-for-age adjustments incorporated into the final rating.

Under this system, Falbrav emerges as the best horse in the world. His consistency and soundness, his ability to win at the highest level in England, France, and Hong Kong, and the manner in which he dominated in his victories make him the most accomplished horse of 2003.

Trained by Luca Cumani, Falbrav is reminiscent of Pilsudski, who was rated 134 on the International Classification in 1997. Falbrav, therefore, gets the same rating as Pilsudski in 1997, in this initial new attempt to sort the world's best. The rating of Mineshaft, the best horse in the U.S. in 2003, is diminished by the lackluster quality of his opposition.

Dalakhani, the French Derby and Arc winner, is rated a pound lower than Falbrav because of facing competition not quite as good. Moreover, Dalakhani's loss in the Irish Derby to Alamshar knocks him down a peg, though he does rate as the best in the world at 1 1/2 miles.

Falbrav also rates as the world's best miler by dint of his impressive two-length Queen Elizabeth II victory over Russian Rhythm. Between those two in the mile category comes Breeders' Cup Mile winner Six Perfections, who also won the Prix Jacques le Marois. This filly might well have been top-rated in the mile if not for her bad luck in finishing second in both the 1000 Guineas and the Irish 1000 Guineas. Notable by his absence from the top four is Hawk Wing. He will receive an enormous International Classification rating for his 11-length win in the Lockinge Stakes, but that appears to have been a freak effort.

The Breeders' Cup Mile was two furlongs too far for Oasis Dream, but his wins in the July Cup and the Nunthorpe Stakes were the two best sprint efforts in the world this year. He gets the nod as top sprinter, over the Australian Choisir, a two-time Royal Ascot sprint winner who split two decisions with the champ. The U.S.-campaigned Albebaran, the best seven-furlong horse in the world, sneaks into third.

Halfbridled, owned by the Frenchmen Gerard and Alain Wertheimer, is the only American-trained champion on the international level, as top 2-year-old filly. The undefeated Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner, Halfbridled tops Denebola, whose victories in the Prix Marcel Boussac and the Prix de Cabourg make her the co-runner-up with Whipper, who beat her into third in the Prix Morny and later won the Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte.

Among top 2-year-old males, it is difficult to separate Bago and American Post, who like Denebola and Whipper are both trained in France. But Bago's easy six-length score in the Criterium International, a race won in 2002 by Dalakhani, gives this Jonathan Pease-trained son of Nashwan an edge over American Post, the winner of the Grand Criterium and the Racing Post Trophy.

As a footnote, there is no category for older females but Ipi Tombe must be mentioned. Winner of the Dubai Duty Free, she would rate a dead heat with Islington at 127 as tops among older females, and she might have deserved a higher mark had her sojourn to Kentucky not turned sour. Ipi Tombe was an easy winner in the Grade 3 Locust Grove at Churchill in June in her only U.S. start. She suffered a minor leg injury soon after and never raced again.