03/25/2008 12:00AM

87 to vie for $21 million in Dubai


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - On the average day at most racetracks in the United States, racing secretaries and their underlings scurry frenetically about, trying to attract a sufficient number of horses onto a particular race card. Too many races, too few horses, goes the slogan of the era.

Let it be said that field size will not be a concern this weekend at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai.

With $21 million worth of prize money to be given away - plus the fundamental allure of competing on international racing's most prestigious program - six Thoroughbred stakes to be run Saturday night revealed 87 entries when provisional fields for the Dubai World Cup Card were announced Monday.

That is an average of 14.5 starters per race - enough to make the average U.S. racing-office employee fall out of their chair.

The drawing of provisional fields was the first part of a two-stage entry process. Barring injury or illness, the fields are likely to be the same when final fields and post positions are drawn Wednesday evening.

Among the entries are horses bred in 13 different countries, with home bases in just as many lands. They have come to Dubai from the distant reaches of South America, from Australia and New Zealand, from Japan and Hong Kong. Eighty-six of the horses entered in the World Cup races range from high-class to brilliant, and all of them are to some degree in the shadow of one particular animal: Curlin.

Curlin is the world's highest-rated horse in training, according to a classification system developed by International Federation of Horseracing Authorities. He is rated at 129, the same as Invasor, the stirring winner of the 2007 World Cup.

Such numbers may mean little to U.S. racing devotees, but fans at home know what Curlin is all about: Third in the Kentucky Derby, winner of the Preakness, second in the Belmont, Curlin ended his year with a good win in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and a truly memorable one in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Curlin, who tuned up for the World Cup with a controlled half-mile breeze Monday morning, was one of 13 pre-entered horses in the $6 million Dubai World Cup, the final race Saturday night. If all start in the 13th edition of the race, it will equal the largest field ever assembled for the World Cup. Thirteen also ran in 2000, when Dubai Millennium set a still-standing track record of 1:59.50 for the 2,000-meter World Cup distance.

Curlin is joined in the race by fellow Americans A.P. Arrow, Great Hunter, and Well Armed, none of whom will be accorded the best chance at an upset. Two Godolphin horses - Jalil, a two-time winner at the meet, and Happy Boy, a Brazilian-bred who won his only Nad Al Sheba start by nine lengths - both merit respect. Asiatic Boy, last year's runaway UAE Derby winner, looked like Curlin's main competition before a disappointing third in his World Cup prep. Premium Tap gave Invasor all he wanted in the 2007 World Cup, but has not looked like the same horse since. The Japanese star Vermilion is by all accounts a better animal now than the one that finished a distant fourth in the 2007 World Cup. A win by Gloria De Campeao, Lucky Find, Kocab, or Sway Ed would be considered an epic upset.

Both $5 million turf races, the nine-furlong Dubai Duty Free and the 12-furlong Sheema Classic, drew star-studded groups of provisional entrants, though the Duty Free will go without Ramonti, who might have been favored had he run. Ramonti was taken out of consideration for the Duty Free on Monday, with Godolphin officials saying a leg infection had put him too far behind to make the race.

Godolphin still has two excellent chances in the Duty Free with Literato and Creachadoir, two of 11 Group 1 winners in a field of 16. The lone American, Notional, will be a huge longshot.

The 16-horse Sheema Classic boasts a group nearly as impressive, with eight Group 1 or Grade 1 winners. Oracle West and Youmzain, respectively second and third in the race last year, both are back for another try, and Hong Kong star Viva Pataca will be among the favorites. Better Talk Now and the less accomplished Spring House carry the U.S. hopes. Doctor Dino, who won the Man o' War and finished third in the Arlington Million last summer, is also highly rated.

In the $2 million Golden Shaheen, a six-furlong dirt race, five U.S. shippers, headed by Benny the Bull and Idiot Proof, will have U.S. expatriate Diabolical to beat.

The Mike de Kock-trained duo of Honour Devil and Royal Vintage top the $2 million UAE Derby, which drew one U.S. horse, Massive Drama.

The American horses Diamond Stripes and Barcola both will be accorded a good chance of beating top locals Elusive Warning and Blackat Blackitten in the $1 million Godolphin Mile.