10/23/2001 12:00AM

Turf: Will it be dirt or Turf?


ELMONT, N.Y. - Decision time has arrived for Team Godolphin after their European star, Sakhee, worked on the main track Tuesday.

Following a convincing six-length win in the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Oct. 7, Sakhee is considered a heavy favorite for Saturday's $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf at Belmont Park, but is also pre-entered for the $4 million Classic.

Godolphin also has Fantastic Light in the Classic and Turf, but he is expected to start in the Classic.

While future-book ticket holders have been in fits wondering where the pair will start, trainer Saeed bin Suroor has emphasized the decision regarding Sakhee rests with Sheikh Hamdan, a principal in the Godolphin racing operation. A decision was required when entries were drawn late Wednesday morning.

"Sheikh Hamdan will decide," Suroor said. "I'm happy to run in any race."

Suroor said Sahkee's Tuesday's workout, officially timed at five furlongs in 1:01.12, was moved forward a day to allow more time for the decision.

"I'm happy with him," Suroor said. "I wanted to see his action before we decided."

Sheikh Hamdan's Shadwell Stable also starts Mutamam in the Turf, which is run over 1 1/2 miles. Mutamam won the Grade 1 Canadian International at Woodbine on Sept. 30. There are no entries for common ownership in the Breeders' Cup this year, which prevents the pair from being an overwhelming favorite.

Still, Sakhee is expected to be a short price. His workout on Tuesday was given more favorable reviews than a clocking of 1:05.20 over a similar distance last Friday.

"He handled the dirt very well," Suroor said. "He was a lot better than the first time he worked. The last time he was a bit slow, but this work was brilliant."

Frankie Dettori, who was aboard in the Arc, is expected to have the mount.

A 6-year-old, Mutamam has never faced the 4-year-old Sakhee. Fourth in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Turf at 37-1, Mutamam has won 3 of 4 starts this year, with the only blemish a ninth in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in July.

On Tuesday, Mutamam galloped on turf and returned to the stable area visibly sweating.

"He's a little fresh," said Wayne Tanner, an assistant for trainer Alec Stewart. "Once he got on the turf, he settled. There was a lot going on on the dirt in the morning. We may try to find a quieter time for him tomorrow."

While Sakhee has never raced in the United States, Mutamam has made two trips across the Atlantic in the last year.

"Sakhee will be tough to beat," said Tanner. "We've done this before. I think Sakhee would prefer more ease in the ground. The ground is not a factor for us."

The firm condition of the turf course was on the minds of other trainers. Earlier in the week, rain was expected for Thursday, but a revised forecast calls for cloudy and colder weather from Thursday through Saturday.

"I'm amazed at how firm it is," trainer Bill Mott said. "If it gets moisture at this time of year, it doesn't dry out. Whatever moisture we get will remain until race day. I hope it stays firm."

Mott will saddle Hap, who won the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland on firm turf on Oct. 7. Conversely, Hap finished second by three lengths to Silvano in the Arlington Million over a yielding course at Arlington Park in August.

Sakhee won over a heavy course in the Arc, and has won over firm going in the past. A firm surface is not ideal for him, Suroor said.

"I hope we have some rain, just in case," Suroor said. "I'd like to see good ground on the turf."