03/21/2002 12:00AM

Different approach, same goal


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - If you took away a carpenter's hammer and saw, he would have a tough time building a house.

If you took away a handicapper's pace figures, speed figures, trainer stats, track profiles, race charts, and video replays, you may as well send him to Dubai.

Someday, international racing may catch on with American handicappers. Meanwhile, bettors who enjoy wagering based on intelligent analysis of comprehensive information may have a difficult time building anything but a deficit when it comes to gambling on events such as the Dubai World Cup.

Not that a fellow in Dubai could ever place a wager anyway. There is no betting at Nad Al Sheba, where the Dubai World Cup program will be held Saturday. In addition, the local Internet provider in Dubai has blocked access to offshore gambling sites. Still, a determined horseplayer eventually finds a way to get a bet down.

Likewise, a determined handicapper finds a way to uncover potential value even without his favorite tools. There are no pace or speed figures appropriate to Dubai racing, no replay machine in the press box, no race charts to aid a horseplayer's memory.

There are other means of analysis that reach beyond black-and-white data. A week in Dubai requires one to adjust, and forsake handicapping techniques that are based on time, such as pace and speed figures. Instead, a bettor must adopt a subjective approach in order to make sense of the four Dubai World Cup races that will be offered for wagering in most of the U.S. This approach includes class analysis, limited observation of the horses, trainer intention, betting patterns, and simple gut instinct.

Not a single horse in the $2 million Sheema Classic is familiar to American bettors. So you start from scratch in the 1 1/2-mile race, to be run over a turf course local horsemen are calling "spongy." Immediately, a standout emerges in the form of Group 1 winner Nayef, 6 of 9 lifetime. A half-brother to champion Nashwan, Nayef fulfilled his potential last fall, winning the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Newmarket, and was briefly considered for the Dubai World Cup.

Instead, Nayef returns to familiar conditions - 12 furlongs on grass. Richard Hills, who will ride Nayef on Saturday, said: "He is a different horse than he was last year. He is 15 kilos [33 pounds] heavier and has filled his frame on his neck and across his quarters."

Translation: Nayef is fit and ready to win first time back. His biggest challenge may come from Tobougg, although that Godolphin-owned colt is compromised by the distance of the race.

The $2 million Golden Shaheen is America's race to lose. The five U.S. starters figure to dominate, with many believing that Xtra Heat can't miss. Unfortunately, she is seriously overexposed. Everyone knows her, everyone will be gunning for her, and everyone will be betting on her. Let them.

In the nearly two weeks since he arrived in Dubai, California-bred Echo Eddie has steadily improved in appearance and attitude. Despite a three-furlong workout Wednesday, on Thursday morning he could hardly be held on the ground. His lifetime best Beyer is 114, not far from Extra Heat's 120. The Golden Shaheen is Echo Eddie's third start following a layoff. Most likely, it will be his best. English bookmakers have listed him at 25-1, arguably the most tempting price on the card.

Caller One has yet to show signs he will run back to last year's dominating Golden Shaheen win, and last year's runner-up, Men's Exclusive, might also be slowing down. Bonapaw's recent form has not been flattered.

The $2 million Dubai Duty Free begs these questions: Why is Val Royal's trainer, Julio Canani, not worried about anything? And why are English bookmakers holding Val Royal at a fat 3-1? It seems too high. When a handicapper does not understand the reason a horse is held at a particular price (on the tote, or by the bookie), he must admit there is something he does not know. At 3-1, Val Royal seems like a trap.

By now, Canani should be showing signs of worry. He usually does when his horses are live. He would be concerned the course was too soft, conditions not right - something, somewhere amiss. Instead, Canani is at peace, almost as if the Dubai Duty Free were a foregone conclusion. Perhaps it is. However, Val Royal must rally from far back against a field that includes six Godolphin runners. Who will be running interference, and who will try to win the race?

The pick is Noverre, who was unable to handle the hard Belmont turf course in the Breeders' Cup Mile last year. Godolphin trainer Saeed bin Suroor, with 23 starters on the night, ranks Noverre as his second most likely winner (behind Sakhee). He may be right.

Sakhee towers over his rivals in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. His odds are too short to bet on; he is too likely a winner to bet against. Exotic wagers, however, can exploit overlays in the two-, three-, and four-hole while conceding the race to the favorite. One horse that will offer value in such bets exists in the Dubai World Cup.

Crimson Quest was a top horse long before he went to Saudi Arabia, where he has been racing. Once there, he turned into a killer. He has won five straight on dirt, will be entirely overlooked by bettors, and the cutback from more than two miles to 10 furlongs is of no concern to his connections. More important, Crimson Quest enters the race with realistic expectations.

Understanding it will take something unforeseen for Sakhee to lose, jockey Eibar Coa's main goal will be to ride Crimson Quest to hit the board. At odds of 30-1 or higher, he can key a memorable exotic on a memorable night in a faraway land.