03/26/2008 12:00AM

Bailey tells how it's done

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The Dubai World Cup, to be run Saturday night at brightly lit Nad Al Sheba, bills itself as the centerpiece of an international celebration that spotlights the finest of the Thoroughbred breed. Certainly, the presence of reigning American Horse of the Year Curlin is a feather in the cap of the royal Maktoum family, whose members subsidize the World Cup festival's giddy array of multimillion-dollar events.

At 1 1/4 miles on dirt, the $6 million World Cup encourages participation from near and far, and this year there are horses invading from Japan, South Africa, France, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. Still, the name is misleading when it comes to the results. Through the first 12 runnings, American-trained horses have won five times and the Maktoum family has won six, before Invasor synthesized the two sides last year as the first Maktoum winner trained by an American. Representatives of the rest of the world have been reduced to bit parts.

In another sense, the history of the World Cup suggests that, until his retirement in January 2006, the race was Jerry Bailey's to win or lose. He won four of the first seven runnings, including the operatic inaugural of 1996 aboard Cigar, and nearly won a fifth in 1999 when Victory Gallop came up 1 1/2 lengths short of catching Almutawakel.

Bailey is home in Florida this week preparing for the ESPN telecast of the Florida Derby. The show is scheduled to feature a replay of the Dubai World Cup, in which Curlin must overcome the number 12 post position. Don't feel too sorry for him, though. The other 12 horses in the field have to overcome Curlin.

"The 12-hole is not good there," Bailey said. "You start with a little run on a false backstretch before you get to the real backside, which means he'll probably be hung four or five wide, at best, pretty much all the way around."

So, is there anything Robby Albarado can do to neutralize the draw?

"The most enticing thing for a jockey to do is move a little early, so you can kind of get over, especially if you're on the best horse," Bailey replied. "But if you do that there you're moving way, way early, so it kind of takes that option away. And you can't really take back, because they kind of stay clumped together in the running, and nobody's going to go out there in 22 and 45 to string the race out. Robby will just have to hope that his horse is fit, and he's that much the best."

Bailey was clearly the best in three of his four World Cup victories. Only Cigar, who beat Soul of the Matter by a half-length, had company in the final frame. Sheikh Mohammed's horse Singspiel defeated Siphon by 1 1/4 lengths in 1997, the Mike Pegram-owned Captain Steve cruised by two in 2001, and the Godolphin entry Street Cry won by a lopsided 4 1/2 lengths in 2002.

"Captain Steve was a good mile and one-eighth horse who just happened to get the mile and a quarter that night," Bailey said. "And to be honest, on the far turn, I wouldn't have given you 10 cents for my chances. I thought I had no shot to hit the board. I was thinking, 'I should win, but I'm not going to.' So I just kept riding and riding, not doing anything different, and he finally kicked in with his run."

Street Cry was a promising 2-year-old in the U.S. with Eoin Harty before being transferred to the Godolphin main string in Dubai. His World Cup victory at age 4 featured a patient, rail-hugging trip that would have fostered tense moments on a traditional mile oval.

"With a long stretch like that, if you've got confidence in your horse there's no point in getting nervous and trying to go wide too soon," Bailey said. "That's the beauty of riding a course like that. On most American tracks, you've got to do something around the turn, make up some ground. At Nad Al Sheba, you can wait, be patient."

In 1997, Bailey had to wait five days, but patience was not the issue. When a ferocious desert storm flooded the course, Bailey and his wife, Suzee, found themselves standing in an empty, leaky grandstand on the afternoon of the race watching Sheikh Mohammed himself inspecting the ground as helicopters hovered in an attempt to dry things out.

"Sheikh Mohammed looked up and drew his finger across his neck," Bailey recalled. "Our son Justin was very young then, so we packed up and went home."

By the time the Baileys were back in New York, the World Cup had been rescheduled for the following Thursday. At that point, Bailey was not interested in another flight half way around the globe and back, no matter what the incentive. Michael Stoute, Singspiel's trainer, put in a call.

"I really think you'd be missing a good time," Stoute told Bailey. "This horse is really doing well. I'd hate for you to miss that feeling you get when you win a race like this."

"I already had that feeling, Michael," Bailey replied. Then he relented, repacked, and headed back to JFK.