03/28/2002 12:00AM

After the ball is over: Lessons from Dubai


ARCADIA, Calif. - A week in Dubai makes one appreciate the privileges sometimes taken for granted in American racing.

In Dubai, one is not allowed to observe the daily training of the Godolphin runners, except for a sanitized "media day" at Al Quoz training center. Can you imagine handicapping a race card in the United States without accurate workout information?

In Dubai, interior fractions are not available. Can you imagine handicapping a race card in the United States without pace figures?

In Dubai, there is a lack of televised race replays. Can you imagine analyzing past performances without visual support?

Make no mistake - the $15 million Dubai World Cup program was terrific. Only the most jaded would fail to appreciate a show that featured Breeders' Cup Mile winner Val Royal; champion 3-year-old filly Xtra Heat; Arc winner and Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Sakhee; and last year's Norfolk winner and this year's Kentucky Derby hopeful Essence of Dubai.

But something was missing. Namely, wagering. The polite applause from more than 50,000 at Nad Al Sheba suggested few bets were down. After all, gambling is illegal in Dubai. For nonwagering Dubai locals, the dearth of relevant handicapping material made little difference. For a typical racing fan in America, it makes all the difference in the world. It will again.

Below is a closer examination of what happened to the horses in Dubai.

UAE Derby

Essence of Dubai remains a fiery colt who came close to boiling over in the paddock. To his credit, he maintained composure and won by a half-length. Assuming that runner-up Total Impact's last start was an accurate barometer, and applying the appropriate beaten-lengths formula, Essence of Dubai's final time of 2:02:90 transfers to a Beyer Speed Figure of 103. It makes sense. The variant would give Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry a Beyer of 117.

While Essence of Dubai will be the only Kentucky Derby starter having won at the classic distance, his UAE victory might not have been as good as it looks. First of all, Essence of Dubai rallied wide from dead last, the same style employed one race earlier by Grey Memo. Successive rally-wide winners suggests at least the possibility of a bias that benefited both horses.

Secondly, Total Impact ran better than the winner. Unable to find cover, he was hounded throughout by Godolphin runners whose jockeys seemed fixed on compromising him. If one did not know better, it seemed their intention was not to win, but to get Total Impact beat. When Essence of Dubai runs in the Kentucky Derby, he will not have anyone running interference for him.

Total Impact has now produced back-to-back Beyers of 102. The figures do him no justice. Both races, he was compromised by pace and/or trip. The 4-year-old will return to the U.S. with potential to become a major player in the older handicap division.

Dubai Duty Free

The American runners disappointed - Val Royal finished fourth; Del Mar Show finished ninth. Forgiving bettors have reasons to excuse both. Peter Ellis, a professional handicapper from Australia, walked the turf course before the race and discovered the inside portion of the course was more firm than the outside. This was because the rails were up for much of the Nad Al Sheba meet, as the inside portion of the course was saved for the World Cup card. The way the turf races played out supports Ellis's finding.

Val Royal raced wide, in the "slower" paths, while winner Terra a Terre raced near the inside. The perceived bias provides a convenient excuse for Val Royal, though skeptics will note the Breeders' Cup Mile winner has now finished off the board in two straight races. Possibly, he is on the downslope of his career.

American bettors who watched Del Mar Show overcome seemingly insurmountable trouble in the Ft. Lauderdale Handicap might have wagered on him in the Duty Free. English bookmaking firm William Hill offered Del Mar Show at a fat 14-1. Unfortunately, Del Mar Show was too keen for his own good. "I couldn't get him turned off," Jerry Bailey said. "He just ran too strong for too long. I didn't mind being where I was, but he was unrelaxed."

Dubai World Cup

Sakhee left his race in the paddock, unusual for a 12-start veteran. He washed out, his head bobbed up and down, and he looked simply awful. The postrace excuse offered by jockey Frankie Dettori is that Sakhee is less effective on dirt. His body language suggests deeper issues.

When a veteran racehorse washes out as badly as Sakhee, he is sending a message he does not want to be where he is. Combine the washout with an apathetic workout three days earlier (media day at Al Quoz), and the question must raised - is something wrong with Sakhee? Dettori later predicted victory for Sakhee when he returns to turf. No bettor should be afraid to wager against the 4-year-old, who is likely to be underlaid despite questions of form.

Street Cry jumped up with an effort that suggests he will be a force this summer in the U.S. His projected Beyer of 117 would make him the second-fastest in the U.S. this year (behind the 119 Beyer earned by Strub winner Mizzen Mast). Street Cry will always emerge victorious when he is the fastest horse in the race. The unanswered question is whether he can put away another horse in a prolonged duel. Of course, if he runs as fast in America as he did in Dubai, few horses will be able to look him in the eye.

Godolphin Mile

It was not yet dark, and the temperature was still warm, but Grey Memo entered the paddock having not turned a hair. He ran to his positive appearance, rolling by 3 1/2 lengths. Several others did not look so good, including Blade Prospector. He popped a quarter early in the week, washed out, and finished eighth.

Golden Shaheen

The best sprinter in America is at home in Dubai; Caller One won the Golden Shaheen for the second straight year. "He likes to run anywhere, it's not just this place," said Jim Chapman, who trained the horse in Dubai for his son, James. "He had some things wrong with him last year." Super training job by Chapman, nice ride by Gary Stevens.

Even in victory, Chapman suggested that Caller One was not 100 percent. He said Caller One runs best with a prep race. If true, it bodes well for his chances this fall in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, which is a long way off, but a lot closer than Dubai.