12/12/2008 12:00AM

Zarkava clearly Europe's best


NEW YORK - A 3-year-old filly emerged as the best Thoroughbred trained in Europe in 2008, a year during which there were at least a half-dozen horses bunched up in that region located just south of greatness, creating a situation that leaves a question or two about just how great Zarkava was.

That she was the best of her sex anywhere in the world can hardly be doubted. Undefeated and a Group 1 winner as a juvenile, the Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained daughter of Zamindar proceeded from strength to strength during her 3-year-old season, winning all five of her races. From the one-mile Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas) and the 1 5/16-mile Prix de Diane (French Oaks) against her own age and sex, she graduated with aplomb in taking the 1 1/2-mile Prix Vermeille against older fillies and mares before trouncing older colts in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Admittedly, she never ran outside of France, but she was beating horses from throughout Europe in all four of her 2008 Group 1 victories. Moreover, she displayed an unconquerable acceleration in all seven of her career starts. In her Guineas, she beat Goldikova by two lengths into second, although the subsequent Breeders' Cup Mile winner nearly fell to her knees at the start. But the only Group or Grade 1 winner she faced in the Vermeille was Folk Opera, while her convincing Arc triumph was had at the expense of perennial runner-up Youmzain, German Group 2-type It's Gino, a Soldier of Fortune who was already over the top, and Duke of Marmalade, a five-time Group 1 winner whose best distance was 1 1/4 miles. A product of the kind of breeding theories that no longer exist in the United States, Zarkava is the anti-sales ring champion. Her female family dates back to the days of Marcel Boussac and the grandfather of the current Aga Khan. Despite the iffiness of what she beat in the Arc and the Vermeille, she is fully deserving of European Horse of the Year honors and probably belongs in a class just a shade below that of two of the best fillies of the modern era, Allez France and All Along, both of whom won the Arc as 4-year-olds.

Goldikova joined Zarkava in adding to the phenomenon that is the French-trained filly. Unlucky in the French 1000 Guineas, she finished the year with three Group 1 tallies at a mile against older distaffers in the Prix Rothschild (ex-Astarte), versus older colts in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, and, finally, in the Breeders' Cup Mile, in which she gave her American audience the thrill of the year with an extraordinary display of acceleration. Her trainer, Freddie Head, rates her in the same class as dual BC Mile and eight-time Group 1 winner Miesque, and he should know, as he rode that superb filly in every one of her 13 races.

Goldikova defeated four-time Group 1 mile winner Henrythenavigator by

2 1/4 lengths in the Moulin, after which Henrythenavigator finished a length behind Raven's Pass in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, suggesting that Goldikova is deserving of the European and world mile championship. Raven's Pass proved to be one of the year's most versatile horses by following up with his Breeders' Cup Classic score over Henrythenavigator as America's best horse, Curlin, faded to fourth.

Head could have himself two European champions, as his three-time Group 1 winner Marchand d'Or cannot be topped in the sprint division, although a word of mention in favor of Overdose must be given. The Hungarian-trained British-bred, stripped of his Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp victory when the race was declared void due to a false start, came right back to win an Italian Group 3 by 10 lengths. Undefeated in 11 career starts, Overdose will be aimed at all of the big sprint races in England and Ireland next year, as will Marchand d'Or, who won the Abbaye rerun from which Overdose was withdrawn.

Conduit, trained by Michael Stoute to a remarkable St. Leger/Breeders' Cup Turf double, is one to keep an eye on for next year as he will be pointed to all of the big 12-furlong races around the world. The superb stayer Yeats, meanwhile, will go in search of an unprecedented fourth straight Ascot Gold Cup title.

Rainbow View is the clear-cut leader for the European 2-year-old filly championship. Perfect in four races - including a six-length victory in the Group 3 Sweet Solera Stakes, a two-length tally in the Group 2 May Hill Stakes, and a 2 1/2-length triumph in the Group 1 Fillies Mile - the daughter of Dynaformer and Del Mar Oaks winner No Matter What gives owner/breeder George Strawbridge and trainer John Gosden the highest hopes for 2009.

On the other hand, the European juvenile colt picture is muddled, as nothing really distinguished itself. The Aidan O'Brien-trained Mastercraftsman won a pair of summertime Group 1's before finishing fourth in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere behind the potentially very good Naaqoos, another Head trainee. Crowded House, a Rainbow Quest colt trained by Brian Meehan, earned high marks for his 3 1/2-length victory in the Racing Post Trophy, but he had been only a half-length second in the Timeform Million to the Gosden-trained Donativum, who became the first horse in history to win two million-dollar races as a 2-year-old when he followed up in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.