09/26/2002 11:00PM

Paolini may be overlooked in International

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PHOENIX - Chicago is a pretty friendly city. But you'll excuse Falcon Flight and Paolini if they feel as though they were mugged there.

Both Falcon Flight and Paolini, major players in Sunday's Grade 1, $1.5 million Canadian International at Woodbine, had significant trouble in last month's Arlington Million. Falcon Flight and Paolini ended up fifth and sixth, respectively, behind Beat Hollow, Sarafan, Forbidden Apple, and Ulundi. Many people believe Falcon Flight, who had significant trouble in the lane on the inside, could have won the race with clear sailing - or even just clearer sailing. Paolini's trouble may not have been quite as significant, but then he never really had room to stretch his legs from the quarter pole to the wire. Who knows where he could have finished with some running room? Falcon Flight was beaten all of a neck; Paolini lost by a half-length.

Falcon Flight and Paolini both raced in last year's Canadian International, which was a brutal affair. Eventual winner Mutamam had to survive an inquiry that lasted nearly an hour, and the final few furlongs were run more like a demolition derby than a horse race. Eventually Mutamam was held blameless, and his half-length win over Paolini stood. Falcon Flight finished sixth, beaten almost six lengths, but like this year's Million his trouble line reads like something out of a Stephen King novel. After a disqualification, Falcon Flight was moved up to fourth. Zindabad, the original third-place finisher, was ultimately decreed as the race's bad boy, and moved down to sixth. Likewise, he's back for more.

Falcon Flight has earned more than $640,000 for owner Gary Tanaka, but there's one alarming trend with him - his top-class races seem to come almost solely at Arlington. His last two wins came there, the 2001 Stars and Stripes and 2002 Arlington Handicap. Otherwise his record is littered with decent efforts elsewhere, but nothing that makes you believe he can win in a top-class field. He's in such a field today.

There's also the issue of 1 1/2 miles. He won the Stars and Stripes at that distance, but that may have been more a case of him being the best horse, not his love for 12 furlongs. And if he is truly an Arlington horse-for-the-course, then his underlaid price here may be something to avoid.

Paolini has no such chink in the armor. He showed in this race last year that he fits with a good Grade 1 field. He's a multiple Grade 1 stakes winner in Europe and may be coming up to his best. He was nowhere in last fall's Japan Cup, then didn't resurface until June, when he finished eighth in a powerhouse field in the Grade 1 Prince of Wales's at Ascot. But then came the Million and an excellent effort. The 1 1/2 miles is right up his alley, and he opens at 4-1 (Zindabad opens favored at 3-1, Falcon Flight 5-1).

I think Paolini's price may sneak up a bit and Falcon Flight's may come down. Money also figures to head toward another tough European, Ballingarry, and on top local hopes Full of Wonder and Perfect Soul. They can't all be underlays, so it's possible Paolini floats up to the 5-1 range.

Still, Zindabad remains the horse to beat, in spite of his bad manners here last year. He is a legitimate Grade 1 horse and may actually be better now at age 6 than he has ever been. He was a solid third in the Grade 1 King George, beaten less than four lengths by Golan and Nayef, two of the top horses in Europe. Before that he won the Grade 2 Hardwicke. Both races came at this distance.

Zindabad's trainer, Mark Johnston, said, "He's come on dramatically. This is far and away his best year. He's been very consistent in his last few runs. He's definitely come on from last year, and we all know from his performance last year a bit of improvement should see him get very close."

That's all well and good, but the pick here is Paolini. I'll key him over Zindabad and Ballingarry, and in case Zindabad is too much horse, also play Zindabad over Paolini.

Falcon Flight? Well, maybe the time to use him is the next time he goes to Chicago, which could be a month from now.