06/06/2003 12:00AM

Dalakhani best 3-year-old. Period.

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NEW YORK - Dalakhani's victory in the French Derby at Chantilly last Sunday marked him as the most impressive 3-year-old performer of this classic season on either side of the Atlantic or the Pacific.

A half-brother to Daylami, Dalakhani took over from his pacesetter Diyapour at the quarter-pole and held safe Group 2 winner Super Celebre. At the line, Dalakhani had two lengths to spare on his rival, whom he had beaten previously by only three-quarters of a length in the Group 1 Prix Lupin.

Dalakhani's time of 2:26.70 for the right-handed 1 1/2 miles at Chantilly on good ground was the third fastest time in the history of the race. Only Bering's 2:24.10 in 1986 and Sulamani's 2:25.00 last year were faster, and both of those clockings came on good to firm ground. Most observors thought that Dalakhani had something left in the tank as he crossed the line. More importantly, it appears that even after six victories, which include three Group 1's, a Group 2, and a Group 3, Dalakhani still has room for improvement.

A product of the Aga Khan's admirably arranged homebred breeding system, Dalakhani is an Irish-bred son of 1984 French Derby winner Darshaan. His dam Daltawa produced Daylami, a son of Doyoun who won the one-mile French 2000 Guineas at 3 when owned by the Aga Khan, but aged like the finest of wines to win a Group 1 in England and a Grade 1 in America at 4, and four more Group or Grade 1's in England, Ireland, and America at 5, all while under lease to Godolphin.

So there is every indication that there is better to come from Dalakhani. However, the Aga Khan and his Chantilly-based trainer in France, Alain de Royer-Dupre, will likely play it the conservative French way for the rest of the year.

It is customary for the winners of the French Derby to take a summer vacation before returning in September for a course and distance prep for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The Irish Derby on June 29 is a temptation that could yet lure Dalakhani, but a decision to send him to The Curragh for a possible meeting with the winner of the Epsom Derby will not be made until after British classic has been run.

The Aga Khan can afford to bide his time, as he had one of the favorites going in Saturday's Epsom classic. Alamshar, trained in Ireland by John Oxx, will have been involved in a three-pronged Irish battle with Refuse to Bend and Brian Boru at Epsom, and it is his performance that will decide if either of the the Aga Khan's 3-year-olds turns up for the Irish Derby.

Should Alamshar prevail at Epsom, it is likely he will go on to The Curragh. Even an Epsom Derby victory by Alamshar would not threaten Dalakhani's status as the Aga Khan's best 3-year-old. Alamshar is not seen to be in quite the same class as Sulamani or High Chaparral, so finding another Group 1 win for him will be difficult after the Irish Derby.

On the other hand, if Alamshar fails at Epsom, the Aga Khan might decide to try the Irish Derby with Dalakhani. In either event, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes has been ruled out for Dalakhani. An autumn re-entry point for Dalakhani would likely be the Prix Niel, a Group 2 course and distance Arc prep for 3-year-olds on Sept. 14.

So, Dalakhani or Funny Cide?

So the question is: How does Dalakhani compare with Funny Cide? And the answer is, there is really no comparison at all.

Breeding wise, Dalakhani is to gold as Funny Cide is to copper. Racing wise, Dalakhani has answered every question posed with aplomb while facing the best opposition in France and England. Funny Cide, a gelding, beat a compromised Empire Maker in the Kentucky Derby and nothing of import in the Preakness. In a mythical race between 10 and 12 furlongs on a neutral surface, Dalakhani would probably have the New York-bred Funny Cide struggling by the quarter pole, just as he had Super Celebre on the ropes at that stage in the French Derby.

As for the future, Dalakhani can take advantage of the excellent European program of 12-furlong races at his disposal. But after the Belmont, Funny Cide will probably never race at 12 furlongs again, the distance being an aberration for U.S. 3-year-olds.

Asking them to go 1 1/2 miles on dirt in June, then never asking them to do it again is incongruous. In fact, it is so out of whack in American racing, the Belmont is looking very much like an anachronism these days.

It hangs there, a vestigial monument to a more glorious past. It is a great race on the face of it, but if it is to have real meaning in the future, the American racing schedule must card more 1 1/2-mile races on dirt.

Or, blasphemous thought, the Belmont distance must be reduced, with respect to the Travers, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the Breeders' Cup Classic - or its surface should be changed to turf, providing a platform for the

Man o' War, the Turf Classic, the Arc, and the Breeders' Cup Turf.