03/26/2009 12:00AM

De Kock well armed for Sheema Classic repeat


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Injured Sun Classique can't repeat her mild 2008 upset, but her trainer, Mike de Kock, still has better than a one-in-four chance of capturing his second straight $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic. There are 15 horses in the 1 1/2-mile grass race, and de Kock trains four of them.

Macarthur drew the widest post and has the least imposing form, but the de Kock-trained Russian Sage is a South African Group 1 winner with a pair of encouraging second-place finishes this winter. King of Rome won an Irish Group 2 last year, and horse No. 4 in the De Kock's assault, Front House, might be the one to beat.

A South African filly, Front House has never been worse than third and has finished first or second in 8 of 9 starts. Twice second this winter in Dubai, she stretched out to 1 1/2 miles in the March 5 City of Gold and won by a half-length. De Kock pointed out this week that Front House's break in weights is smaller Saturday, but in the Sheema Classic she drew favorably in post 1 where last out she crossed over from post 16 to lead all the way.

"She's probably just as well for this race as she was last time," de Kock said.

With little other pace in the race, Front House would figure to take the early lead, but jockey Kevin Shea insisted at Wednesday's post position draw that he'd let another horse lead. Regardless of trip, Front House's record speaks to her fight.

"If I have the lead a furlong out, she won't be beaten," Shea said earlier this week.

The race includes more familiar names, like Quijano and Youmzain, both of whom make their third straight Sheema Classic appearance. Youmzain, the better of the two, was third in 2007 and fifth in 2008. However, he hasn't started since a second-place finish to super-filly Zarkava in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and he tends to improve as the racing season progresses.

Seven-year-old Doctor Dino finished third in the 2008 race and has been kept in training for another season rather than going to stud. A nose victory Dec. 14 in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase over 1 1/2 miles suggests Doctor Dino is as good as ever.

"I've always said that the moment he shows any dip in form, we'll call it a day," trainer Richard Gibson said.

Just behind Doctor Dino in Hong Kong was Purple Moon, who merits a close look Saturday for trainer Luca Cumani.

Golden Shaheen: Filly in good spot

Indian Blessing will be the last horse loaded into the gate before the $2 million Golden Shaheen, but all things being equal, she'll be the first horse home.

A nine-time winner over five different tracks, Indian Blessing has won races as short as 5 1/2 furlongs and as long as 1 1/16 miles. She has won on dirt and synthetic tracks, on fast going and in mud - a positive, since a wet track is possible Saturday. Indian Blessing tackles males for the first time Saturday and also races down a straight course for the first time in her career.

"If there's a filly who can do it, she can," said Jimmy Barnes, the assistant to trainer Bob Baffert who has overseen Indian Blessing's training in Dubai.

Indian Blessing has never lost a race shorter than one mile, and the six-furlong Golden Shaheen should suit her fine. From post 12, she should race down the center of the track, which could be an advantage if rain continues falling here. The water runs down the slope of the track here and could make inside paths deeper.

Americans have ruled the Golden Shaheen, and Indian Blessing has an edge on the other two, Black Seventeen and Machismo. Black Seventeen missed a scheduled work here Tuesday.

Top European sprinter Marchand d'Or ran poorly on dirt here two years ago, but trainer Freddie Head said that tender feet - and not the track surface - led to the disappointing effort.

Diabolical finished a flat seventh in the race last year, but should improve off a third-place finish in his March 5 Golden Shaheen prep.

UAE Derby: Desert Party has edge

Kentucky Derby hopeful Desert Party appears to have a clear edge on 12 opponents in the $2 million UAE Derby, and his third win this winter in Dubai would send Desert Party overseas for a try in the Kentucky Derby.

Ridden out to a half-length win in his first start this winter in Dubai, Desert Party, a son of Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry, won the UAE 2000 Guineas by almost five lengths and did so without seeming to be asked for his best.

"He's done really well this winter," jockey Frankie Dettori said. "He's laid back and nice. He's a lot like his father - he gets better and better."

Anyone trying to beat Desert Party should look for a horse he hasn't yet faced, like Al Bastakiya winner Soy Libriano or dirt-debuting Naval Officer.

Godolphin Mile: Home team strong

On the surface of things, Godolphin has a stranglehold on the $1 million Godolphin Mile, with both Two Step Salsa and Gayego obvious contenders. But Two Step Sala risks getting caught up in a taxing early pace, while Gayego has a history of throwing clunkers. Bettors in the United States might do well to stand against the Goldolphin pair.

Problem is, there is no solid American invader like 2008 winner Diamond Stripes and 2007 winner Spring at Last. The only U.S.-based horse in the race is Informed, a reformed claimer who has never won a stakes of any sort. Still, Informed might have an outside shot, and rail-drawn Cat Junior deserves a look. Brian Meehan-trained Cat Junior was competitive in Group 1 races over a mile on turf last season, and Meehan brought the 4-year-old colt here for his dirt debut because he thinks he will handle the surface.

"Jamie Spencer is adamant that he'll like dirt," Meehan said, referring to Cat Junior's jockey. "The horse has just been a baby so far. This should be his year."