09/15/2002 11:00PM

Sulamani is Arc favorite off Niel win

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Sulamani was installed as the 9-4 favorite for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe by virtue of a painfully slow victory in the Prix Niel on Sunday at Longchamp, where Pearly Shells broke the stakes record in winning the Prix Vermeille.

The three runners in the 1 1/2-mile Group 2 Niel set out at a snail's pace with Gulf News traveling the first seven furlongs in 2:11.20. Sulamani loped to the lead three furlongs from home, getting the last three-eighths of a mile in 33.70 seconds to complete the 12 furlongs in 3:12.80, a performance for which the 3-10 favorite and his rider, Thierry Thulliez, were greeted in the winner's circle by boos.

Sulamani's margin of victory over Gulf News was two lengths with Morozov third, a nose behind his Andre Fabre-trained stablemate. The French Derby winner, Sulamani has now won four straight starts for trainer Pascal Bary and his owners, the Niarchos family. While Sulamani's next race will be the Arc on Oct. 6, Bary said after the French Derby that the Breeders' Cup Turf was also on Sulamani's agenda.

In contrast to the game of tortoise and the hare played in the Niel, the Group 1 Prix Vermeille for 3-year-old fillies was strongly run, and it produced at least three solid Arc candidates.

The 1.90-1 Pearly Shells gave her trainer, Francois Rohaut, the biggest win of his career with her 1 1/2-length victory over Ana Marie. She rallied from mid-pack to lead at the sixteenth-pole, finishing in 2:26.00 under Christophe Soumillon on ground labeled good to firm, and breaking Volvoreta's stakes record of 2:26.30. A neck winner two starts back over Ana Marie in the 1 5/8-mile Group 2 Prix de Malleret, Pearly Shells, a versatile daughter of Efisio, was coming off a two-length score in the 1 1/4-mile Prix de la Nonette. She, Ana Marie, and third-place Bright Sky, the winner of the French Oaks in her previous start on June 9, will all appear in the Arc.

Aquarelliste, the winner of last year's Vermeille on her way to a second-place finish in the Arc, returned to form after a pair of losses to take the 1 1/2-mile, Group 2 Prix Foy for older horses. She won by a length at 9-10 over 2001 French Derby winner Anabaa Blue in 2:29.00 with Dominique Boeuf aboard. Aquarelliste and third-place Falbrav will line up for the Arc, but the participation of Anabaa Blue, who dislikes soft ground, is uncertain.

Coral Eurobet's Arc odds: Sulamani 9-4; High Chaparral 11-4, Golan 8-1, Islington 9-1, Marienbard 10-1, Aquarelliste, Pearly Shells, Manhattan Cafe 12-1, Next Desert 16-1. Coral has removed defending champ Sakhee from its Arc betting. William Hill still offers Sakhee at 9-2, but only if he runs.

Both Van Nistelrooy and Dublin had their three-race unbeaten records ended when they went down by three-quarters of a length and a neck to the 7-1 Refuse to Bend in the seven-furlong, Group 1 National Stakes for juvenile colts and fillies at the Curragh. Refuse to Bend, a Sadler's Wells colt who was timed in 1:26.00, is now 2-for-2, and is trainer Dermot Weld's prime hope for next year's classics.