03/22/2006 12:00AM

Discreet Cat iffy for Kentucky trip

Andrew Watkins / Dubai Racing Club
Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Discreet Cat wins an allowance at about a mile at Nad Al Sheba in March. He may not want much more distance.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Unless he scores an easy win in Saturday's $2 million UAE Derby and shows he is suited to running 1 1/4 miles, Discreet Cat is unlikely to run in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, said Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford on Wednesday. Undefeated in two starts - a maiden race at Saratoga last August and an allowance race here on March 9 - Discreet Cat is a strong favorite with English bookmakers to win the UAE Derby, which is run at about 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Nad Al Sheba racecourse.

Crisford said Discreet Cat lacks experience and that even the 1 1/8 miles of the UAE Derby may be too far for him.

"It's highly questionable whether a mile and an eighth is best for him," he said. "He may turn out to be a miler or a seven-furlong horse.

"He's short on experience and long on the hype. He strikes us as a colt who will get better as the year goes on."

Godolphin has not ruled out starting Discreet Cat in the Kentucky Derby, but, said Crisford, he won't run in all three Triple Crown races because they are too close together.

"We'll wait until after the UAE Derby to see what kind of race we'll run in," Crisford said. "The Triple Crown would be out of the question.

"You might put him in one of those races. You might put him in the Preakness, if he runs well on Saturday night. He needs to put a little condition on. He'll definitely come to America, however he runs."

The Maktoum family, which owns Godolphin, has never won a Triple Crown race. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the force behind Godolphin, has repeatedly stated that winning the Kentucky Derby is a long-term goal.

Despite being nine time zones from Churchill Downs, Godolphin has used the UAE Derby as a prep for its Kentucky Derby hopefuls in past years, bypassing the more traditional Kentucky Derby prep races in the United States.

Last year, Godolphin won the UAE Derby for the fourth time, in an upset with Blues and Royals. He won in a field that included the Godolphin-owned Shamardal, who finished ninth. Godolphin had hoped that Shamardal would develop into a Kentucky Derby candidate, but neither he nor Blues and Royals started in the Kentucky Derby.

Godolphin has not had a starter in the Kentucky Derby since 2003. Its best result from five starters is a sixth-place finish by China Visit in 2000.

Discreet Cat, who is by Forestry, was bought privately last September following his debut.

Discreet Cat began his career with a sharp win in a six-furlong maiden race at Saratoga in late August. Trained at the time by Stanley Hough, Discreet Cat earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 106, winning by 3 1/2 lengths.

After being acquired by Godolphin, Discreet Cat did not start again in the United States, or in two stakes for 3-year-olds run at Nad Al Sheba earlier this year - the UAE 2000 Guineas on Feb. 10 or the Al Bastikiya Stakes on March 2. Instead, he ran in an allowance race at about a mile on March 9.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Discreet Cat stalked the pace and made a move in early stretch before winning by four lengths.

Crisford downplayed the recent win on Wednesday.

"He completely outclassed" the opposition, Crisford said. "We wanted to get him back on the track."

Wednesday, Discreet Cat was the last of 40 horses that Godolphin put on display on an annual media day at its Al Quoz training center.

Godolphin will have 250 horses in training this year, including 85 2-year-olds, Crisford said. The size of the 2-year-old division has been halved in recent years, although Godolphin still transfers horses from other members of the Maktoum family and buys horses privately, such as Discreet Cat. The 2-year-olds have already been sent to Newmarket, England.

The number of horses that will compete in America has not been determined, Crisford said.

The 40 horses that were on display Wednesday were primarily 3- and 4-year-olds bound for stakes in Europe.

As the other horses galloped or jogged past, Discreet Cat stood for several minutes in the stretch alongside a pony on Wednesday. Discreet Cat and the pony jogged to the backstretch of the nine-furlong training track before Discreet Cat broke off alone for a brief gallop.

Discreet Cat had a five-furlong workout on Monday, Crisford said.

"That was the only work he's done since he's run," he said. "He only ran two weeks ago."

The UAE Derby is part of the undercard of the $6 million Dubai World Cup. The third race on a seven-race program of stakes worth $21.25 million, the UAE Derby field comprises seven Southern Hemisphere-bred 3-year-olds, foaled in the second half of 2002 (thus considered 4-year-olds in the Northern Hemisphere), and six 3-year-olds foaled in 2003.

In the UAE Derby, Godolphin also starts Testimony, a maiden winner at Belmont Park in October who was 10th in the Grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs in November. Outside of the Godolphin stable, Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum starts Unification, the winner of the Grey Breeders' Cup Stakes at Woodbine in October who is winless in two starts at Nad Al Sheba this year.

Testimony may start in the United States later this year, and wants longer distances, Crisford said.

"That doesn't mean he's good enough for the Belmont, but he'll be better over that distance," he said.

Like Discreet Cat, Testimony and Unification have been nominated to the Triple Crown races. Whether they make it to one of those races depends on their performances on Saturday.

"If he looks like he'd have a top chance in the Kentucky Derby, we'd like to take a chance," Crisford said of Discreet Cat. "One day we'll have a horse that is suitable."