03/27/2007 11:00PM

All eyes trained on Discreet Cat

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Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Discreet Cat trains at the Al Quoz center in Dubai on Tuesday.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The omelettes were perfect, not a wisp of egg out of place, at Godolphin's open house and breakfast Wednesday morning at the Al Quoz training center. A row of palms stood stately behind flamingoes out on the lagoon inside the training track, and longtime Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford provided suave commentary as a parade of some of the world's best horses walked onto Al Quoz's new Tapeta surface to train before the assembled media.

Behind this expertly crafted facade there is a horse as inscrutable and amazing as Godolphin itself. Discreet Cat was the highest-rated 3-year-old in the world last year, and in six career races, three of them graded stakes, no horse has been within three lengths of him at the finish. Discreet Cat has brilliant speed and has proved he's a top miler, having won the Grade 1 Cigar Mile last Nov. 25 in his final start of the season.

"Clearly he's a fantastic, fantastic colt," Crisford said.

Fantastic, or one of the best horses in years, the racing world will know more Saturday night when Godolphin takes the wraps off Discreet Cat for the first time in 2007 in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. The race should test him like none he's had so far.

The World Cup's 1 1/4 miles is a furlong farther than Discreet Cat ever has raced, and it has been more than four months since Discreet Cat raced at all. Moreover, the World Cup has substance the likes of which Discreet Cat hasn't yet encountered. Invasor finished a distant fourth to him here in the 2006 UAE Derby, but the 2006 U.S. Horse of the Year is by all accounts a different animal now than the one Discreet Cat beat. There also is Premium Tap, third to Invasor in the Breeders' Cup Classic but a seven-length winner of the Grade 1 Clark Handicap, and easily best in his Saudi Arabian prep for the World Cup.

"Maybe he didn't beat some of the horses that Invasor has beaten, but just on the back of his Cigar Mile, that's a lot," Crisford countered. "He's only run six times in his life - he's done nothing wrong."

Godolphin appeared to operate on a higher profile last year in the U.S. with a string overseen by trainer Rick Mettee, but Crisford said no, the operation remains the same, with 15 to 20 horses slated for American racing when the stable disperses from Al Quoz in April. One of them is Folk, who came to hand late in her 2-year-old American campaign and has thrashed lesser competition in two races this winter in Dubai. She faces colts in the UAE Derby, and could target the Kentucky Oaks if she holds her own. Day Pass, who easily won the Nashua Stakes last November at Aqueduct, also goes in the UAE Derby, but was a distant fourth in his prep for the race and isn't considered a Kentucky Derby prospect, Crisford said.

Those two horses accompanied Discreet Cat onto the track Wednesday morning - and how the digital cameras whirred. Discreet Cat stood calm and poised, looking out toward the frantically expanding Dubai skyline he's seen almost every day for the last three months. Crisford's voice filtered through speakers as Discreet Cat did a routine gallop.

"He's had a very good winter except for one little blip, when he had to miss his prep because of an elevated temperature," Crisford said. "He doesn't carry a lot of condition, and that's why the layoff isn't going to be a problem. He has a wonderful way of going, and he has a great constitution."

A fairly convincing narrative, but one that raised as many questions as it answered. That "blip" cost Discreet Cat his intended World Cup prep, and there is no way he can afford to be at less than his best and handle Invasor's "A" race. And while Discreet Cat has, according to Crisford and trainer Saeed bin Suroor, matured significantly, he has not overtly displayed that rugged constitution.

Purchased privately out of his Saratoga debut after turning in the best 2-year-old maiden performance of 2005, Discreet Cat didn't race again until the next spring. His six-length win in the March 25 UAE Derby established him as exceptionally gifted, but Godolphin hinted not long after that Discreet Cat might not be a Kentucky Derby horse - and he wasn't. In fact, Discreet Cat got sick not long after leaving Dubai for New York, and didn't start again until Aug. 25.

But then he reminded racing fans why they clamored to watch him in the first place. His 11-length win at Saratoga in a third-level allowance produced a seven-furlong time of 1:21.40 - and tingling spines in those who witnessed it. He buried four so-called rivals five weeks later in the Grade 2 Jerome, barely getting out of a common gallop. Veterans Silver Train and Badge of Silver took their shots in the Cigar Mile, pushing Discreet Cat through a half-mile fraction of 44.80 seconds, six furlongs in 1:07.30. Discreet Cat flicked them away, drawing clear to win by 3 1/2, his mile time 1:32.40.

But many had wanted to see Discreet Cat square off with Bernardini, Invasor, and Lava Man in the Breeders' Cup Classic, not middle-distance horses in the Cigar Mile, and when Discreet Cat was scratched from the Lahan Burj Nahaar the morning of March 1, it only enhanced the enigma.

"Everything has to be perfect with a horse like this," said Crisford. "You can't take a chance."

The horse galloping Wednesday at Al Quoz had star power. He has grown since last year, and looks little like a miler with distance issues.

"He's only gone a mile and an eighth, but he gives the impression that if he manages to relax during the early stages of the race, he should stay well," Crisford said.

Discreet Cat also has matured mentally, improving his approach to regular training, and his major World Cup breeze last week appeared to be excellent.

"His work this year has been more relaxed," bin Suroor said. "Whatever you ask he does."

"I haven't ridden him in a year," jockey icon Frankie Dettori said Wednesday morning. "Come Saturday I'll know if he has improved, and how much he has improved."

Finally the Godolphin curtain is coming up. We can see for ourselves how good this horse might be.