10/10/2001 12:00AM

Cup has been tough nut for Euros to crack


ELMONT, N.Y. - Is this the year of the Europeans?

Almost from the outset, in 1984, the Breeders' Cup scene has been awaiting many victories by horses from Europe, victories that for one reason or another failed to materialize.

It is not as if good horses weren't involved. Dancing Brave, Zilzal, Indian Skimmer, Sonic Lady, Trempolino, Lear Fan, and other stars of the European circuit crossed the Atlantic and failed to win. Perhaps we were wrong to expect such victories. Many of them had hard campaigns at home and simply ran out of gas here.

The differences in the racing scene and the surfaces between Europe and America are huge. An exceptional effort is required to overcome these differences, and, in retrospect, it may be more fitting to salute those horses who came to the U.S. and won: Miesque, Pebbles, Daylami, Pilsudski, Sheikh Albadou.

Pebbles, a filly running against colts in the Breeders' Cup Turf in 1985, needed a break to win at Aqueduct. She got it in the form of a clear trip along the rail through the stretch. Daylami was best in his race at Gulfstream in the Turf of 1999, powering through the stretch to win as he pleased, and earning a flying dismount from an elated Frankie Dettori.

Two of the best Europeans scheduled to come for the Classic are King George and Queen Elizabeth winner Galileo, and Irish Champion winner Fantastic Light.

"They are both very outstanding individuals," noted Alec Head, one of Europe's most successful horsemen and a keen judge of racing talent. "Galileo may have had a hard campaign."

America's Aptitude, with a strong performance to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup, may have earned the favorite's role in the Breeders' Cup Classic, but the European challengers look formidable and an exciting race is in prospect.

Mutamam, winner of the Canadian International, is expected to go off as the favorite in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He ran well in last year's Turf and he is a seasoned traveler, a key credential for Breeders' Cup success. Another possible Turf starter from Europe is Sakhee, winner of last weekend's Arc de Triomphe in Paris. From what we've seen of other Arc winners in the Breeders' Cup, however, the French race is very demanding and takes more out of its participants than can usually be restored in three weeks.

The best American candidate for the Turf is probably With Anticipation, the Sword Dancer winner who has speed and can carry it 1 1/2 miles. Another solid prospect is Timboroa, much-improved winner of the recent Turf Classic at Belmont Park.

Aidan O'Brien, who trains Galileo, will be coming to New York with several Breeders' Cup candidates, including Black Minnaloushe for the Mile, Mozart for the Sprint, and Johannesburg for the Juvenile. O'Brien has had an exceptional season and could win here with all of his horses without occasioning much surprise.

The Mile looks very competitive and American chances were strengthened last weekend at Santa Anita with the victory of Val Royal in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile. Mozart was probably the best sprinter in Europe this summer but was racing on grass and will be switching to dirt for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The same requirement prevails for the Juvenile, and it has proven a barrier for European 2-year-olds to this point.