03/27/2008 11:00PM

Beating Curlin tough but not impossible


NEW YORK - A group of 86 horses from 15 different countries will line up for the six Thoroughbred races on Dubai World Cup Night, 25 of whom have won 64 Group 1 or Grade 1 races.

How to make sense of it all? One way is to compare Racing Post Ratings (RPR), assigned numbers that would determine the weight a horse would carry if the race were a handicap. Horses with eight of the top 14 RPR ratings awarded this year on dirt and three of the best eight on turf will be running on Saturday.

Dubai World Cup

Curlin earned an RPR of 127+ for his easy win in a weak handicap over the World Cup course and distance on Feb. 28, but his best RPR of 131 came in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Among Curlin's American rivals, only A.P. Arrow, who earned a 117 for his second in the Donn Handicap, has a chance of threatening the favorite.

The progressive Jalil's 118+ gives him a chance if he improves again and Curlin throws in a race like the Haskell Invitational, in which his RPR was just 121.

Happy Boy, returning from a minor leg injury, is another one for players looking for a way to beat the favorite. His 117+ in Round 1 of the one-mile Group 3 Maktoum Challenge suggests further improvement in store for the Brazilian-bred, who has won going 1 3/8 miles on dirt in his native land and is now, like Jalil, a member of Team Godolphin.

The Mike de Kock-trained Asiatic Boy was rated at 121 for his UAE Derby victory last year, but his best RPR this season is just 115. De Kock apologized for leaving Asiatic Boy short when he was a one-paced third last time in the one-mile Burj Nahaar, and promises better things on Saturday. A return to form and a subpar effort from Curlin would put Asiatic Boy in the picture.

The Japanese threat is Vermilion. With a best RPR of 121 and a four-race winning streak on dirt, he must be considered in the exotics.

Dubai Duty Free

Ten of the 16 entries have won 27 Group 1 races. French filly and three-time Group 1 winner Darjina, Creachadoir, and last year's runner-up Linngari all check in with RPRs of 124. If you think that Darjina and Creachadoir can run to that figure in their seasonal debuts, or that Linngari will better his 119 in a weight-giving handicap score on Jan. 24, your choice lies among these three.

Literato also has a 124 RPR, but like Creachadoir is making his first start of the season and he probably prefers 1 1/4 miles to the 1 1/8 miles of the Duty Free. In five starts since earning a 121+ for winning the 1000 Guineas, Finsceal Beo has failed to approach that rating and is running off a six-month absence. The 120 of the consistent Hong Kong invader Floral Pegasus, who has been chasing Viva Pataca and Good Ba Ba, owners of two of the three best turf RPRs this year, makes him one of the card's more valuable exotic plays. The blueblooded Archipenko can improve off a 117 for winning the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort last time, while Admire Aura at 121 seeks to repeat the victory of his stablemate Admire Moon in this race last year.

Doug O'Neill got his wish when Notional was bumped into the field, but his RPR best of 118 was earned on dirt and compares badly with his 103 turf rating.

Dubai Sheema Classic

Eight of the 16 runners in this 1 1/2-mile race have won a total of 25 Group 1 or Grade 1 races.

Hong Kong invader Viva Pataca, twice a winner last spring over last year's Sheema Classic champ Vengeance of Rain, approached his lifetime RPR best of 126 when earning a 125 for winning the Hong Kong Gold Cup last time. High class and consistent, he looks difficult to oppose, even at 5-2 or thereabouts. Youmzain, third in this last year, sports a 126 RPR for his narrow Arc second in October, but like last year, arrives in Dubai without benefit of a prep race. Ditto Hong Kong Cup winner Doctor Dino, whose 122 puts him in the picture. But he is more likely to run closer to the 119 he got winning the Man o' War.

Oracle West at 120 (with a 116 best this year) is key exotic play, while the German-bred Quijano, sharpened when earning a 114 for a weight-giving fifth in the Dubai City of Gold, could improve upon his career best of 122.

This race is unsuitable for the Americans. Better Talk Now earned just a 104 when sixth in the Fair Grounds Handicap on Feb. 8. Spring House's 115 for winning the San Luis Obispo gives him a longshot chance.

Dubai Golden Shaheen

The RPR scoreboard for the three leading Americans and Godolphin's ex-American favorite Diabolical reads: Benny the Bull 118, Diabolical 117, Idiot Proof 115, Barbecue Eddie 112. With Diabolical coming from just off the pace, he might get first run on Benny the Bull, who runs from farther back. Edgar Prado must stay in touch early aboard Benny the Bull in this straight six-furlong affair, because it is difficult to come from behind on the Nad Al Sheba dirt.

UAE Derby

Massive Drama has earned RPRs of 102 in three of his last four outings, but that won't be good enough for victory. Even Etched, who was withdrawn on Thursday, earned a 107 for his UAE 2000 Guineas fourth behind Honour Devil (111) and Royal Vintage (110), the South African Southern Hemisphere 3-year-olds who may duke it out again as they did in both the Guineas and the Al Bastikiya. Beware the improving Numaany and Japanese raider Iide Kenshin, who is much better on dirt than turf. Both are exotic plays. Godolphin believes that its U.S.-bound filly Cocoa Beach (105) is the best of its three entries.

Godolphin Mile

American hopes lie with Diamond Stripes, whose RPR best of 113 came when third to A.P. Arrow in the Clark Handicap. But Diamond Stripes earned just a 93 in his seasonal debut when fourth in the Sunshine Millions Classic and is facing two hot course and distance specialists from Godolphin in Elusive Warning (114) and Blackat Blackitten (113).