08/31/2007 12:00AM

Time to establish true title contenders

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NEW YORK - It is September, and the sweltering August meetings at Deauville, Goodwood, Baden-Baden, Arlington, Saratoga, and Del Mar are all but behind us. The preliminaries are over and now we move into that most titillating time of the year, the semifinal season, when places in the big year-end championship races will be decided.

The semis for one of the most important finals, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, begin Sunday with the Grosser Preis von Baden, but three more serious course and distance Arc preps will be run Sept. 16 at Longchamp. This year's Arc previews could be more revealing than some of the snail's-paced events to which we have become accustomed, if only because of the presence of Manduro in the Prix Foy.

The highest-rated older horse in the world, Manduro is co-second favorite for the Arc by virtue of victories this season in the 1 1/8-mile Earl of Sefton Stakes, the 1 1/4-mile Prince of Wales's Stakes, and the one-mile Prix Jacques le Marois. If that sounds like an odd pattern of races leading up to the 1 1/2-mile Prix Foy, much more so the Arc, you are not mistaken. There are questions about Manduro's

stamina limitations - if successful in the Foy he will even have to be supplemented to the Arc - but his trainer, Andre Fabre, is not buying any of it. Fabre is confident that his Monsun

5-year-old will get the Arc distance. He has, however, taken the precaution of preparing a Plan B, just in case.

Manduro is nominated to the 1 1/4-mile Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 20. Fabre has also said that should Manduro fail at 12 furlongs in either the Foy or the Arc, there is always the Breeders' Cup Classic, for which he is Betfred's fifth choice at 8-1 behind 4-1 favorite Street Sense.

Manduro will hardly have himself a walkover in the Foy, despite the absence of King George winner Dylan Thomas, who will prep for the Arc in the 1 1/4-mile Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Sept. 8. Mandesha, last year's three-time Group 1 winner who has had a bit of trouble getting untracked this year, will go in the Foy after a pair of seconds, to Sunday's Grosser Preis von Baden favorite Mountain High in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, and to Peeping Fawn in the Nassau Stakes.

Peeping Fawn herself is possible for Arc Preview Day's nominal feature, the Prix Vermeille for fillies and mares. A three-time Group 1 winner trained by Aidan O'Brien, Peeping Fawn has all but clinched European 3-year-old filly honors, and while Mandesha is also nominated to the Vermeille, along with Alexandrova, Peeping Fawn may not have to worry about either of them until the Arc, if then.

With Epsom Derby winner Authorized likely to go straight to the Arc off his Aug. 21 victory in the Juddmonte International, the 3-year-old colt Arc prep, the Prix Niel, looks wide open. The Fabre-trained Zambezi Sun will be fresh from his five-length victory in the 1 1/2-mile Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris on July 14, but he could be challenged by the O'Brien-trained winner of the Irish Derby, Soldier of Fortune, who will apparently skip the Sept. 15

St. Leger Stakes, in part because O'Brien already has Honolulu, Mahler, Acapulco, and Macarthur aimed at the Doncaster classic.

Ladbrokes's current Arc odds have Authorized as the 2-1 favorite, followed by Manduro and Zambezi Sun both at 5-1, Dylan Thomas 7-1, Soldier of Fortune 8-1, and Mandesha 12-1.

Meanwhile, Breeders' Cup Mile clues will be revealed in next Sunday's Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, in which George Washington could make his first appearance since his third-place

finish in the 1 1/4-mile Eclipse Stakes on July 7. The Godolphin-owned Ramonti, however, probably rates the Moulin choice off his victories in two Group 1 miles, the Queen Anne and Sussex stakes. Either or both of those two could make their BC Mile prep appearances in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot Sept. 31. Or they might run in both the Moulin and the QE II.

One who will certainly go in the Moulin is Darjina, the winner of the French 1000 Guineas and the Prix d'Astarte. Trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre, Darjina is probably Europe's best distaff miler, although Finsceal Beo, the English and Irish 1000 Guineas winner who is slated to meet Indian Ink and Red Evie in the one-mile Group 1 Matron Stakes at Leopardstown next Saturday, could dispute that claim.

One who has been earmarked for the Queen Elizabeth II is English and Irish 2000 Guineas winner Cockney Rebel. Absent since his fifth behind the O'Brien-trained Excellent Art in the St. James's Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot on June 19, Cockney Rebel threw in a super work on the Newmarket gallops Wednesday. Trainer Geoff Huffer termed the move "absolutely astounding" - all the more so as Cockney Rebel was returning to action after having

suffered a fractured pelvis in the

St. James's Palace.