10/23/2003 12:00AM

It's America's best vs. Europe's best


ARCADIA, Calif. - In the last year, Falbrav has won major stakes in Japan, France, and England, justifying his position as the top horse in Europe. Over the last six months, Storming Home has shown flashes of brilliance, and erratic behavior, to rise to the top of the American rankings.

A Breeders' Cup Turf featuring those two would be considered outstanding in most years. Saturday at Santa Anita, the $2 million Turf includes that pair in a field of nine, and also defending champion High Chaparral and Sulamani, the winner by disqualification of the Arlington Million in August.

Storming Home is the likely favorite, largely because of his record in Southern California, but there will not be much separating him in the betting from the other three leading contenders.

The race is so deep that High Chaparral may be the fourth betting choice even though he won the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes against Falbrav last month and finished third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct. 5.

A performance similar to his third in the Arc may not be good enough to win on Saturday.

The edge may go to Storming Home, who excels at the race distance of 1 1/2 miles and prepped for the Turf with a victory in the Clement Hirsch Turf Championship over 1 1/4 miles on this course on Sept. 28. The victory in the Grade 1 Hirsch, Storming Home's third major stakes win of 2003, helped to restore the 5-year-old's reputation as a top horse after a near-tragedy in the Arlington Million.

Storming Home and Sulamani were the first two past the wire in the Arlington Million on Aug. 16. Just before the finish, Storming Home swerved to the outside and interfered with two rivals. He unseated jockey Gary Stevens past the finish and was disqualified and placed fourth. Sulamani was awarded first place in the stewards' room. Stevens missed three weeks of racing because of a collapsed lung suffered in the spill.

Trainer Neil Drysdale said that the situation was caused when Storming Home reacted to a photographer positioned near the finish line. There was no such incident in the Clement Hirsch, and Storming Home has continued to train well on the Santa Anita turf course in recent weeks.

"It's encouraging that he had a race over it and liked it," Drysdale said.

Following the Million, Sulamani won the Turf Classic at Belmont Park on Sept. 27, overcoming a stumble on the final turn to pull clear in deep stretch for his fifth career stakes win. Last spring, he won the $2 million Dubai Sheema Classic; in 2002, he won the French Derby.

Falbrav has only enhanced his reputation since losing to High Chaparral in Ireland. In the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on Sept. 27, he scored a convincing two-length win. The one-mile distance made the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes an unconventional prep for the Turf, but trainer Luca Cumani said the race showed Falbrav's versatility.

"It was there for the taking and the ground was firm," Cumani said. "It was a good prep. We haven't bottomed him out at all."

Turf races over 1 1/2 miles at Santa Anita are run downhill for the first three furlongs, which Cumani said will help Falbrav.

"We hope to get a good pace behind the leaders," Cumani said. "He will have a three-furlong kick. The horse is very adaptable. His best trip is 1 1/4 miles, but even a mile is fine and he's won at 1 1/2 miles."

Of the other five entrants, Johar may have the best chance of pulling an upset. A winner of three stakes, Johar won the San Marcos Stakes over 1 1/4 miles on turf here last January before going to the sidelines with injury. Trained by Richard Mandella, Johar finished second to Storming Home in the Clement Hirsch.

"I think the world of this horse," Mandella said. "He's coming into this race as good as a horse can be."