03/29/2007 12:00AM

Avoid Euros on dirt, ice-cold Godolphin


The Japanese horse Pop Rock has a good shot to prevail in the Sheema Classic.P

NEW YORK - With 68 of the 82 horses running at Nad Al Sheba on Dubai World Cup Night technically not trained in the United States, Timeform ratings will prove more relevant than in American races. The top rating is always the benchmark by which handicappers should gauge a horse's chances, but there are numerous factors that can dissuade one from accepting that hard figure as gospel.

Two such come into play on Saturday. One, European-trained horses are generally at disadvantage on World Cup Night, especially in dirt races. Two, Godolphin has had a tough winter at home. Its horses are 3 for 44 at Nad Al Sheba, although the stable has been shored up by bringing in some big guns such as Eu Tambem and Folk in recent weeks.

Godolphin Mile: The top Timeform dirt ratings belong to Parole Board (117), Spring at Last (116), and Dixie Meister (115). Parole Board, however, has drawn widest in post 16 while the two Americans are racing overseas for the first time. Mullins Bay has a 119 turf rating and has been training well for Mike de Kock. If he can duplicate his best turf form on dirt, he will prove value. Vortex, with a 116 on Polytrack and a 112 at Nad Al Sheba, is also a threat but has drawn wide in 15.

UAE Derby: At 115+, Asiatic Boy holds a 1-point edge over the filly Folk. Both are winners over the course and distance, but the feeling is that the Argentine-bred Asiatic Boy could be this year's version of Invasor and that he is more than one pound better than Folk. Eu Tambem is dangerous and can improve on his 106+ for winning a subpar edition of Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge in his Dubai debut. He was coming off a four-month layoff, since winning the Argentine Derby. The wild card is Bartola, whose huge victories on dirt in a pair of Argentine stakes make him a strong factor. Go, however, with Asiatic Boy, who will soon be occupying a de Kock stall in Newmarket.

Golden Shaheen: Thor's Echo, second in this last year, is rated at 126 for his Breeders' Cup Sprint victory, putting him well ahead of Friendly Island at 117 and Bishop Court Hill at 116. But Thor's Echo has since been switched to Sateesh Seemar, for whom he flopped in his Dubai return four weeks ago. Thor's Echo is 0 for 2 on the Nad Al Sheba straight and may prefer racing around one turn. Friendly Island was a distant runner-up to Thor's Echo in the BC Sprint and prepped sharply when taking the Palos Verdes at Santa Anita on Jan. 20. This race is made for American sprinters, and if Friendly Island or Thor's Echo fail, there is Terrific Challenge, an ex-Stanley Hough trainee now with Doug Watson, whose 110+ for winning the Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal is topped by an overall North American best of 115+.

Sheema Classic: Vengeance of Rain at 126, Pop Rock at 125, and Red Rocks at 124 for his BC Turf triumph are top rated, and it would a bit surprising if anyone else sneaks in for the victory. The Japanese horse Pop Rock has accomplished more on an international level than Hong Kong invader Vengeance of Rain. A repeat of his nose second in the Melbourne Cup or his sharp second to Deep Impact in the Arima Kinen would give Pop Rock an edge over Red Rocks, who has not run since the Breeders' Cup on Nov. 4. At 123, Laverock is not far behind this group and is coming off a pair of Nad Al Sheba losses to Quijano in which he was spotting the winner eight pounds and seven pounds. They meet at equal weights this time, which gives Laverock an advantage, over Quijano at least.

Duty Free: Regardless of ratings, Daiwa Major looks like the best bet on the card. He was compromised last time in an Arima Kinen which was longer than he likes and will relish the Duty Free's nine furlongs. Last fall, he won two Group 1's in Japan, at a mile and 1 1/4 miles, in very fast times, and his 124 Timeform rating may be a bit on the low side. It is the equal of the ratings for both red-hot Linngari, who has drawn disastrously in post 16, and dangerous countrymate Admire Moon, but is below those of the three Americans.

Lava Man's best of 130 was earned on dirt in the Goodwood Handicap. His top turf rating is 125, but his last three figures outside of Southern California are 104 at Churchill Downs, 93 in Tokyo, and no rating at Belmont, on which basis he is a throw-out. English Channel may be the most dangerous of the Americans, not least because he is under the care of trainer Todd Pletcher. He runs consistently to a 125 or 124 and should not be too far away. Miesque's Approval's BC Mile came in at 124, but that is beginning to look like a mild fluke.

World Cup: Invasor 133, Discreet Cat 132p (likely to improve) sums it all up in a manner quite similar to their shared best Beyer Speed Figure of 116. Handicapping acumen comes into play here in Invasor's proven form at the World Cup distance of 1 1/4 miles, as Discreet Cat has never won beyond 1 1/8 miles, albeit at Nad Al Sheba in last year's UAE Derby when he slammed Invasor into fourth by seven lengths.

But was that race a true indication of Invasor's ability? Probably not. He has improved greatly since then, and while Discreet Cat has too, there is a slight doubt about his preparedness as he missed his Nad Al Sheba prep due to a fever. Godolphin is no slouch at winning big races off layoffs similar to Discreet Cat's four months. It won the Epsom Derby with Lammtarra off a 10-month layoff in 1995, but there were no Invasors in that race. Indeed, unless Godolphin can work some magic, Invasor looks like a safe play.