11/02/2002 12:00AM

Euros a Melbourne Cup threat

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European raiders look set to dominate the 135th running of the Melbourne Cup at Flemington in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday.

The $1.9 million contest is a handicap run over two miles, and, as usual, has attracted a maximum field of 24 runners.

No European shipper has won the coveted Cup since Vintage Crop's 1993 triumph, but they have come very close in the last four years. Runners from the Godolphin stable have twice been runner-up, and the English stayer Persian Punch finished third twice.

But Australian bookmakers expect the top prize to be exported this year, as the top choices in the market are horses who have made the journey from the other side of the world.

Two Godolphin-owned stablemates trained by Saeed bin Suroor, Pugin and Beekeeper, are co-favorites at 5-1 along with the Dermot Weld-trained Media Puzzle. Weld, who won with Vintage Crop, also saddles Vinnie Roe, who is 7-1.

Media Puzzle and Beekeeper both have the benefit of having raced since their arrival in Australia. Media Puzzle won the Group 3 Geelong Cup, while Beekeeper stayed on strongly in sixth place behind the brilliant Northerly in the Caulfield Cup and is expected to appreciate this longer trip.

Pugin and Vinnie Roe have not run for over seven weeks since they met in the Irish St Leger, with Vinnie Roe coming out on top by 1 1/2 lengths.

Rain Gauge, sixth in last year's Cup, is the best-fancied of the home challengers, while Distinctly Secret carries the hopes of New Zealand.

France: Dalakhani by a neck

Dalakhani maintained his unbeaten record with a neck victory over Chevalier in the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud in France on Saturday.

A homebred 2-year-old half-brother to the 1999 Breeders' Cup Turf winner Daylami, Dalakhani is owned by the Aga Khan and trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre. Ridden by Christophe Soumillon, he was sent off the 4-5 favorite over four rivals on ground that, after heavy rains, was even deeper than the official description of "heavy."

Despite missing the break, Chevalier, trained by Aidan O'Brien, was soon in front and was asked by jockey Mick Kinane to increase his lead with over a quarter-mile to run. Dalakhani did not immediately keep up, but Soumillon refused to panic, and, without resorting to the whip, cajoled his mount to make a move approaching the eighth pole.

Chevalier battled on gamely once he was headed by Dalakhani, but he could never get past. It was five lengths back to third-place Governor Brown. Napper Tandy was fourth, with Songlark fifth. The time for a mile was 1:52.00.

De Royer-Dupre said, "A mile and a half will be perfect for him next year, so we will campaign him in races like the Prix Greffuhle and the Prix Hocquart. He is entered in the Epsom Derby, but he could go for the Prix du Jockey-Club instead."