08/02/2001 11:00PM

Just two teams in Euro battle royale


Many of the biggest races in Europe this season have boiled down to a battle between the forces of Godolphin and the battalions of Magnier and Tabor.

Galileo, Mozart, Black Minnaloushe, and Imagine have all taken Group 1 races for Aidan O'Brien, who trains for Magnier and Tabor, while Fantastic Light and Noverre have done likewise for trainer Saeed bin Suroor's Godolphin troops.

It has been much the same story on the juvenile scene, where David Loder has compiled an almost unbelievable winning percentage in Britain of .625. Twenty-five of Loder's 40 starters have been victorious since his return to England and Newmarket after a two-year hiatus in Evry, France.

Loder's situation vis-a-vis Godolphin has changed since his arrival at Stanley House. Although still employed exclusively by the Maktoum family, the horses he now trains run under the names of the four individual Maktoum brothers, Maktoum, Hamdan, Mohammed, and Ahmed.

In effect, he is still training for Godolphin, as the brothers will sit down at the end of the European flat season in November with Loder, Suroor, and Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford to decide which of the 2-year-olds will "become" Godolphins, which will continue to run as 3-year-olds for each brother, and which will be distributed to assorted cousins and in-laws in Dubai for the winter racing season there.

Meanwhile, Loder is having the time of his life, having already chalked up a Group 2 winner, two Group 3 winners, and two listed winners.

The most highly rated of his horses at this stage is Meshaheer. Owned by Hamdan, he is a full brother to O'Brien's current three-time Group 3 winner King Charlemagne, by Nureyev out of Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap winner Race the Wild Wind.

Meshaheer showed remarkable recuperative abilities when he took the six-furlong Group 3 July Cup at Newmarket by 1 1/4 lengths after missing the break. He has been slated to go in the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes at York on Aug. 22.

A day later at the same track, Loder will saddle his Group 2 Cherry Hinton Stakes winner, Silent Honor, in the Group 2 Lowther Stakes for Mohammed. A rare Sunday Silence runner in the West, she is from the family of Miesque, but she showed rankness in the Cherry Hinton, which she will have to overcome if she expects to stay in the front rank of European juvenile fillies.

The Marju colt Naheef made it 2 for 2 with a sharp score in the seven-furlong Group 3 Vintage Stakes at Goodwood Wednesday. He belongs to Maktoum and looks like a candidate for the late-season juvenile miles.

Seba, an Alzao filly owned by Mohammed, opened some eyes at Royal Ascot when she overcame an extraordinary amount of trouble to land the seven-furlong listed Chesham Stakes at the expense of some well-bred colts. She is a half-sister to Cassandra Go, who won the five-furlong Group 2 King's Stand Stakes at the same Royal meeting and would seem ideally suited to the Group 1 Fillies Mile at Ascot on Sept. 29.

Echo River is another filly high on Loder's list. By Irish River, she is a speedy filly from the family of the excellent racemare It's in the Air. Owned by Maktoum, she bounced back from a subpar fourth in an Italian Group 3 to win the listed Star Stakes over seven furlongs at Sandown.

Loder has a host of youngsters on the brink of stardom. Dubai Destination is a $1.5 million Kingmambo colt from the family of champion Japanese sprinter Agnes World who is expected to improve off his 3 1/2-length maiden score second time out at Newmarket. Mamool, by In The Wings out of 1 1/2-mile Group 3 Prix de Royaumont winner Genofeva, is a potential Oaks candidate who will debut in a Doncaster maiden on Sunday. And Official Flame, a $1.6 million half brother to champion European sprinter Stravinsky by Deputy Minister, has earned raves on the Newmarket gallops and will debut in a maiden at York's important August Meeting.

Yet in spite of all this Maktoum and Loder firepower, Timeform's leading European juvenile to date is trained by Aidan O'Brien.

Johannesburg, who runs in the blue and orange colors of Michael Tabor, won a maiden at Fairyhouse in Ireland plus Group 3's at Royal Ascot and the Curragh. A Kentucky-bred son of Hennessy out of the Ogygian mare Myth, he escaped from America for only 200,000 of Tabor's dollars and could be a future sprinting star.

O'Brien also has a pair of Danehill colts in Rock of Gibraltar and Firebreak, plus the $3.4 million Storm Cat-Serena's Song filly Sophisticat who could yet make their marks. There are two reasons that the Maktoum juveniles, all of whom wintered in Dubai, have gotten the jump on the O'Brien horses: the early season ban on racing in Ireland and restrictions on Irish horses traveling to England because of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

They are only now reaching the high plateau upon which Loder's 2-year-olds have been performing all spring and summer, and may yet eclipse their Maktoum rivals.