03/22/2009 11:00PM

America the underdog


In a recent column, Daily Racing Form's foreign-racing expert Alan Shuback made the compelling case that American racing continues to lose competitive ground to the world at large in virtually every aspect of the game.

He's right of course. During the past few decades, European, Asian, and Arabian interests have purchased many of our best-bred and most accomplished horses while stocking their racing and breeding operations.

We in America have become accustomed to European horses taking our measure in some of our most prestigious turf events, and last fall we even saw a pair of proven European turf milers - Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator - finish one-two in our richest race, the 1 1/4-mile, $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic on the Pro-Ride at Santa Anita.

This Saturday, at Nad Al Sheba Racecourse in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, the 14th annual Dubai World Cup will present its extravaganza of six rich world-class Thoroughbred stakes. Anyone who thinks that America is likely to dominate the day or its centerpiece - the $6 million Dubai World Cup - is likely to suffer a rude awakening.

In the 1 1/4-mile, $6 million World Cup, America's four representatives - Anak Nakal, Arson Squad, Well Armed, and Albertus Maximus - hardly compare favorably with the likes of 2007-08 Horse of the Year Curlin, who won this race for fun last year. Even Albertus Maximus, winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (on Pro-Ride) last fall and the nine-furlong Donn Handicap on dirt at Gulfstream this winter, no longer is a true American horse, having been purchased by Dubai-based Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum ostensibly to compete in the World Cup.

The other three American-based World Cup horses have had some success in graded stakes, but they are longshots based on current form against an oversized field that includes serious world-class horses from Japan, South Africa, Europe, and a few more from Godolphin's deep stable.

Anak Nakal, for example, is a borderline Grade 2 type by virtue of his Grade 2 win in the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park last September. Arson Squad has only slightly better credentials, having beaten Anak Nakal in the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup last October.

Well Armed, a solid Grade 1 performer in 2008, including a third in this race last year, has been struggling to find that form in 2009. While his connections are hoping a return to Nad Al Sheba will inspire a top performance, the Dubai World Cup is a tough spot to expect a lifetime top.

Among the most logical contenders are a few with Dubai connections, including the Godolphin stable's My Indy, who has won both of his prep races over the Nad Al Sheba track this winter; the proven world-class performer Asiatic Boy, trained by South African Mike de Kock; and Happy Boy, trained by Mubarak bin Shafya. All of these locally based horses have run well at various times at Nad Al Sheba.

In addition there is Brazil's Gloria de Campeao and Japan's lightly raced but talented Casino Drive, whom we saw win the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont last spring in his second career outing after shipping 9,000 miles. Casino Drive did come back to America last fall, but was not ready to handle top-class competition in the BC Classic, fading to last after setting the pace for six furlongs. Since that poor showing, Casino Drive has run well against top company in the Far East and, as such, is one of the more interesting horses to watch in this entertaining event.

Realistically, the foreign and Dubai-based horses have form that is better than the American contingent, which is par for the course in contemporary world-class racing.

That said, there is at least one race on the World Cup card in which an American-based horse would seem to rate quite well: the $2 million Golden Shaheen. This six- furlong sprint contested on a straightaway course in front of the grandstand has been dominated, as one would expect, by American horses through the years. This year the leading American contender is the fast and accomplished 4-year-old filly Indian Blessing, who reportedly is training well over the track. She is no lock, however, as her competition will include the American-based speedball Black Seventeen and a few locally based winners, including the former American Diabolical, owned by Godolphin and trained by Saeed bin Suroor. Last fall, Diabolical was a solid second in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, and I would expect him to give Indian Blessing all she can handle based on that performance and other top efforts on his resume.

Good performances by American-based horses could occur in the pair of $5 million turf races, or the $1 million Godolphin Mile on the main track. The day's other dirt race, the $2 million UAE Derby at 1 1/8 miles, will have no American-based horses, but is expected to produce a viable Godolphin-owned contender for the Kentucky Derby in Desert Party, a colt who debuted with two wins in America last summer. More recently, Desert Party scored an impressive victory in the UAE 2000 Guineas over the track.

In the 1 1/8-mile, $5 million Dubai Duty Free, the solid American-based turf miler Kip Deville will rate a legit chance stretching out about a furlong past his best distance while meeting a deep and experienced world-class group.

Among his most formidable foes are Japan's high-class mare Vodka, plus several based in Dubai, including the proven world-class performers Archipenko and Creachadoir, and last year's Duty Free winner, Jay Peg. The American-based Hyperbaric, who improved last fall, also is here with trainer Julio Canani.

In the 1 1/2-mile, $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic, world traveler Doctor Dino, twice winner of the prestigious Hong Kong Vase, meets a diverse, difficult-to-compare field that will include Youmzain, fifth in this race last year, and Red Rocks, the 2006 Breeders' Cup Turf winner who loosely can be called an American horse after he was permanently relocated by owner J. Paul Reddam in 2008. Neil Drysdale's 2008 Canadian International winner, Marsh Side, also is in the field as the only purely North American-based horse in the race.

In the Godolphin Mile, which is run on a dirt course that includes a relatively sharp turn into Nad Al Sheba's five-sixteenths-mile stretch, the two top horses in the field - Two Step Salsa and Gayego - used to be American-based but are further examples of Godolphin's buying power. Both were strong performers in America last year and more recently won prep races over the track to be a formidable duo in this spot.

For more historical insight into these races and the nuances of Nad Al Sheba, I strongly recommend Alan Shuback's recently released DRF Press book, "Global Racing." In my opinion this single reference book contains the most useful information on European and Asian racing ever published for an American audience.