03/28/2005 12:00AM

Is the bloom now off Roses in May?


NEW YORK - Few other races elicit the kind of conflicting feelings in an American racing fan like the Dubai World Cup. On one hand, it is a genuine thrill to see an American horse dominate international competition on the other side of the world as Roses in May did in Saturday's 10th running of the world's richest race. On the other hand, there is the lesson that the first nine runnings of the Dubai World Cup taught us, which is the majority of American horses who make the long journey to the Middle East to compete in this particular event are, upon their return, never the same. Quite a few, in fact, never even race again.

Ken Ramsey, the owner of Roses in May, made it clear before his horse headed to Dubai that he was aware of the potential downside involved in this venture. But, he also had a clear vision of the potential upside.

"When someone tells me I can't achieve something, I try to get it done whichever way I can," Ramsey said. "It's just part of my personality. I love a challenge.

"This is a goal I set for this horse. We are talking about the world's richest race with $3.6 million to the winner. That would have a good chance of making [Roses in May] the leading money earner of 2005. A win would also double his value as a stallion."

Mission accomplished, and in great style. But while you can hardly argue with Ramsey going for the "bird in the hand," so to speak, you only have to look back to last year's Dubai World Cup to see that Ramsey is taking a chance.

Like Roses in May has now done, Pleasantly Perfect effectively "won" the first three months of the 2004 racing season when he won last year's World Cup. But by doing so, Pleasantly Perfect essentially conceded the last nine months of the racing season. He did win the Pacific Classic, but even in victory he didn't look like the Pleasantly Perfect of old. And in losses in the San Diego Handicap and Breeders' Cup Classic, Pleasantly Perfect was well below the standard he set for himself when he won the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic. Of course, a top-notch Pleasantly Perfect might not have been able to handle the 2004 version of Ghostzapper under any circumstance. But the point is, an American horse like Pleasantly Perfect or Roses in May might win a fat purse and double his worth as a stallion with a victory in Dubai. But when you put effectiveness during the last nine months of the racing season at risk, you are also risking a serious shot at Horse of the Year honors, which brings with it great glory, and does a lot more than merely double a horse's stud value.

Then, there is the story of Medaglia d'Oro. He ran a terrific race finishing a close second to Pleasantly Perfect in last year's World Cup. He didn't get the $3.6 million, and he didn't get the big bump in stud value. He also never raced again.

The bloodstock agent Mark Reid purchased Medaglia d'Oro, Peace Rules and Midas Eyes for owner Ed Gann, and brokered Medaglia d'Oro's stud deal. He also is racing manager for the owners of Saint Liam, and he advised them not to send the horse to Dubai.

"History has proven it to be a demanding test to go to Dubai, and one many horses never recover from," he told Daily Racing Form earlier this year. "I know that from firsthand experience, having been associated with a great horse like Medaglia d'Oro, who never ran again after competing in the World Cup last year."

The troubling thing is Roses in May is nothing like Pleasantly Perfect, who was a one-run closer, and very much like Medaglia d'Oro, who had speed and ran hard every step of the way. For his part, however, Ramsey has made an effort to improve Roses in May's chances of successfully rebounding from the Dubai World Cup. He said he consulted with trainer Bill Mott, who won the first Dubai Cup in 1996 with Cigar. Ramsey said he also talked with trainer Bob Baffert, who won the Dubai Cup in 1998 with Silver Charm and in 2001 with Captain Steve, with trainer Bobby Frankel, and with Tom Albertrani, who handles the Dubai-based Godolphin horses when they are stabled in this country.

"We're also going to try something that maybe others didn't when we get back," Ramsey said. "Of course, [Roses in May] will be very hydrated before and after the trip. But when we get back, he'll go to Kentucky and spend time in a hyperbaric oxygen tank in Lexington. That does promote healing, and he'll go in every day for a month."

I hope it works, and that Roses in May makes it to the Whitney and the Breeders' Cup Classic - races that Ramsey has in mind for him - and performs up to his capabilities. Because it's hard not to be proud of this horse after what he did Saturday night. The odds, however, are not in his favor.