03/01/2005 12:00AM

Dubai not playing spoiler this year

Rock Hard Ten (left), training Tuesday at Santa Anita with Gary Stevens aboard, is running in the Big Cap instead of the Dubai World Cup. But next year it could be the other way around.

ARCADIA, Calif. - The trend over the last several years of the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap losing top handicap horses to the $6 million Dubai World Cup has been reversed this year.

When the Big Cap is run on Saturday, the race will feature the 2005 major California stakes winners Lundy's Liability and Rock Hard Ten as well as the Grade 1-winning Florida shipper Saint Liam. In past years, one - or all of them - might have been kept out of the race and sent to the Dubai World Cup, which will be run March 26.

Last year, four California-based horses skipped the Big Cap in favor of Dubai - Pleasantly Perfect and Medgalia d'Oro, the first two finishers in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Classic; Domestic Dispute, the winner of the 2004 Strub; and Fleetstreet Dancer, the winner of the 2003 Japan Cup Dirt.

This year, the Dubai pull is not as strong. Shipping all the way to the Middle East did not appeal to the connections of Saint Liam.

"We just didn't want to go to Dubai," said trainer Richard Dutrow. "This was the next logical spot."

The presence of Lundy's Liability, Rock Hard Ten, and Saint Liam should help to revive a Big Cap that has been reduced in status because so many top horses have skipped the race in favor of one worth six times as much.

Of the four American-based horses who have won the Dubai World Cup, none started in the Big Cap that year. Three of them - Cigar in 1996, Silver Charm in 1998, and Pleasantly Perfect last year - were expected to start in the Big Cap. Cigar and Silver Charm bruised a foot, while Pleasantly Perfect spiked a temperature a day before the race. Silver Charm and Pleasantly Perfect were entered for the Big Cap and then scratched.

Losing horses to the World Cup has frustrated Santa Anita officials, who cannot compete with the prize money offered in Dubai.

"You do the same thing every year; you recruit and talk to people," said Rick Hammerle, Santa Anita's racing secretary. "You hope these things balance out. Maybe it's our turn this year with the bad luck we've had with the weather.

"I haven't heard that much of a buildup as years past for going to Dubai. It's hard to argue with someone who is going for $6 million. You can't blame them. You just hope they will run here."

Richard Mandella, who trained Pleasantly Perfect, is starting Congrats and Rock Hard Ten in Saturday's Big Cap. Mandella admits he was tempted to send Rock Hard Ten to the Dubai World Cup, but says he does not feel the 4-year-old is ready.

"That's a hard trip. You better know your horse well," he said. "Anybody can go, but to run the race you're expecting, they'd better be able to ship."

Rock Hard Ten joined Mandella's stable last fall and has since won two stakes - the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes in December and the Grade 2 Strub Stakes last month.

"The difference of the horses I've taken so far, they were old pros," Mandella said. "I don't see this guy as an old pro yet. He's still learning. I'm sure hoping next year he can do it."

Mandella has started seven horses in the Dubai World Cup since the race was first run in 1996. The 5-year-olds Soul of the Matter, second in 1996, and Malek, fourth in 1998, were his youngest Dubai starters. Sandpit, third in 1997, was the oldest at 8.

Congrats, 5, the winner of the San Pasqual Handicap in January, may still earn a trip to Dubai, depending on Saturday's result.

"He's an old pro, and he's pretty easy to read," Mandella said.

No horse has ever won both the World Cup and Big Cap. The Mandella-trained Siphon has come the closest. He won the 1997 Big Cap by three lengths and finished second in the Dubai World Cup to Singspiel a month later.

Trying both stakes is not easy, Mandella said, but is very tempting. "It's dependent on so many things," Mandella said. "Dubai is a $6 million and a world-class event. It is worth a lot."

Taking a pass

Here are the California-based horses who in the previous five years passed the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap to run in the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

YearHorseTrainerDubai Finish
2004Pleasantly PerfectR. Mandella1st
2004Medaglia d'OroB. Frankel2nd
2004Domestic DisputeP. Gallagher6th
2004Fleetstreet DancerD. O'Neill7th
2001Captain SteveB. Baffert1st
2001AptitudeB. Frankel6th
2000Public PurseB. Frankel3rd
2000Saint's HonorC. Dollase9th