03/29/2009 12:00AM

Best value lies with Asiatic Boy


NEW YORK - Horseplayers are not known for being among the earliest risers on the planet. But whether or not that reputation is deserved, all of us should make it our business to be up earlier than usual Saturday morning. That's when the world's richest program of racing will be underway a half a world away in Dubai. The $6 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race, heads a program at Nad Al Sheba that includes five other graded events, each with a seven-figure purse, including two that are worth an additional $5 million each. And while these events are truly international affairs, every one of these races includes horses familiar to American racing fans.

Stateside, Gulfstream Park dominates the national stakes schedule. Saturday is that track's biggest day of the year, with the Grade 1, $750,000 Florida Derby, featuring a battle between Dunkirk and Quality Road that has major Kentucky Derby implications. The Florida Derby tops a card that also includes the Grade 2, $150,000 Swale Stakes, and the Grade 3, $100,000 Appleton Stakes.

Dubai World Cup

Albertus Maximus ranks as one of the top two or three older males in the U.S. by virtue of his wins in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap and Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile in his last two starts. In most years, a statement like that would pack a wallop, and would automatically make him the one to beat in the World Cup. Not so this year. It's not Albertus Maximus's fault, but the handicap division is currently significantly below usual standards, both in terms of level and depth of quality. So while Albertus Maximus has managed of late to fashion himself a reputation, he is likely to be overbet in this race, especially here in this country, where American horses competing on the Dubai World Cup card are often shorter prices than they probably should be.

Moreover, Albertus Maximus is a definite question mark at Saturday's 1 1/4-mile distance. He backed up badly the only time he ever attempted to go this far, suffering the worst loss of his career when eighth in the 2007 Pacific Classic. It's true that Albertus Maximus is a better horse now than he was then. Still, when he won the nine-furlong Donn most recently, it wasn't like Albertus Maximus ate up the distance. He had to work very hard to turn back a stubborn longshot after taking the lead in upper stretch.

Asiatic Boy is certainly no secret in this race. He will probably be second choice in the betting. But Asiatic Boy is also a strong play, and if he is around 7-2 to Albertus Maximus's 5-2 in the betting pools here, he might actually represent betting value.

Asiatic Boy has seemed headed to a World Cup win ever since his brilliant victory in the UAE Derby on the World Cup undercard two years ago. He did in fact make it to last year's World Cup, but had the misfortune of running into Curlin when that two-time Horse of the Year was at the top of his game, and had to settle for second. There are certainly no Curlins in this year's World Cup, and Asiatic Boy looks like he's in better form now than he was at this time last year. Before his game try in this race last year, Asiatic Boy was third in his final World Cup prep. This year, Asiatic Boy was a dominant winner of his final World Cup prep, at the distance, and over the track.

Appleton Stakes

Vanquisher had finished first in three straight races and was at a career peak before his fourth in the Canadian Turf Stakes most recently. But in no way do I take his latest effort as a signal of a decline in form. In fact, I like Vanquisher to get right back on the winning track in this spot.

The pace in the Canadian Turf was deliberate, if not downright slow, and that compromised Vanquisher's late kick. But to his credit, Vanquisher still closed willingly to finish a close fourth, beaten less than two lengths. There is much more early speed in this event. And with some of that speed, namely T. D. Vance and Fagedaboudit Sal, really having no choice but to go early after drawing the outside two posts into an extremely short run to the first turn, the pace should be quick. That should only enhance Vanquisher's good late punch.

San Miguel

Instead of getting caught up in Gotmymojoworkin finishing ninth last time out in the Sunshine Millions Dash at Gulfstream Park, it might be better to focus on the regard his connections must have for him. They sent him across country for the Sunshine Millions off only a maiden win in his career debut just three weeks earlier. I'm ignoring Gotmymojoworkin's debacle at Gulfstream, and I'm going with him here.

For one, Gotmymojoworkin is off dirt and back on the Pro-Ride surface on which he recorded a solid win at first asking. And judging from his excellent recent works, Gotmymojoworkin is happy to be back at Santa Anita. But most importantly, Gotmymojoworkin looks to be the main speed in a race where the opposition does not look imposing.