01/09/2009 12:00AM

Dubai track stalls, but Cup rolls on

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NEW YORK - The world financial crisis has finally hit Dubai, a country that had appeared impregnable to the chaos caused throughout the rest of the world by the unprecedented credit crunch. News this week that major construction work on Maydan Racecourse had ceased after developers canceled the $1.3 billion contract with the two major construction firms that had been building the ultra-modern, state-of-the-art facility came as blow to Dubai's reputation as a country with the ability to get every project it lays its hands on done, and done quickly.

Meydan's developers still say that the track, with its 1,080-yard-long grandstand, will be ready in time for the 2010 Dubai World Cup, even though construction has ground to a virtual halt with only 55 percent of the work finished on the grandstand, its accompanying luxury hotel, and racing museum. One of the construction firms, Malaysia-based WCT Engineering, said the Meydan developers were in breach of contract but they did not plan any legal action. Saeed Al Tayer, chairman of the development concern, has said that neither WTC or Dubai-based Arabtec, the second company involved in the project, would be able to deliver certain areas of the facility in a timely manner. Tayer has said he has other construction companies waiting in the wings to take over the work.

WCT said that Meydan had called in performance and advance payment bonds provided in the joint WTC/Arabtec venture. With money as tight as it is everywhere, it appears that even oil-rich nations like Dubai are not as flush with cash as once believed.

Japanese runners in Cup forefront

Results from Japan over the Christmas holidays suggest that Japanese runners could make an impact on the last Dubai World Cup night scheduled for Nad Al Sheba, to be run on March 28. Daiwa Scarlet's brilliant front-running victory in the $3.8 million, 1 9/16-mile Arima Kinen at Nakayama on Dec. 28 has her poised for a shot at one of the three big races on World Cup night, although trainer Kunihide Matsuda has yet to decide from among the 1 1/4-mile World Cup, the 1 1/2-mile Sheema Classic, or the 1 1/8-mile Duty Free. Daiwa Scarlet is being aimed at the February Stakes at Tokyo on Feb. 24. That is a one-mile dirt race that has traditionally served as a World Cup prep.

A half-brother to 2007 Duty Free third Daiwa Major, Daiwa Scarlet has won 8 times and finished second 4 times in 12 career starts. If she goes in the World Cup, she could be joined by the resurrected Kane Hekili. The game winner of the 2005 Japan Cup Dirt at 1 5/16 miles, he used just a single prep off a 2 1/2-year injury-enforced absence to win the most recent running of the same race going 1 1/8 miles on Dec. 7. Trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, he came right back on Dec. 29 to win the $1.5 million, 1 1/4-mile Tokyo Daishoten at Ohi and is a cinch to be named Japan's champion 2008 dirt horse.

Americans a question mark

This is a good time to wonder where the American challenge for the Dubai World Cup will arise. With the retirements of both Curlin and Big Brown, there isn't a single older horse of genuine Grade 1 caliber in training in North America, not that it takes a Grade 1 Thoroughbred to win the world's richest race. The competition afforded American runners in the World Cup usually consists of European turf horses, ex-South Americans, and local spear-carriers recruited to make up the numbers. Dubai Millennium, Street Cry, and Singspiel were exceptions to that rule, but there don't appear to be any European or Godolphin-owned horses of that stature waiting in the wings.

The Mike de Kock-trained pair of Honour Devil and Royal Vintage, first and second in front of third-place Cocoa Beach in last year's UAE Derby, were both mentioned as World Cup candidates at that time. Honour Devil is unraced since then, while Royal Vintage failed on both turf and Polytrack in England in September. Asiatic Boy, a distant second to Curlin in last year's World Cup for de Kock, was returned to Dubai from England in September and has been preparing for a Nad Al Sheba campaign since then.

Uruguay, where the Argentine-bred Invasor first made his mark, could have a runner in the World Cup in Relento. A Brazilian-bred son of the British-bred Green Desert sire Fahim and trained by Ubal Miguez, Relento won his ninth straight stakes race - and first at the Group 1 level - by taking the 1 1/2-mile Gran Premio Jose Pedro Ramirez by 2 1/2 lengths at Las Maronas on Jan. 6.

Youmzain, twice runner-up in the Arc de Triomphe, is slated by Michael Channon for a third try at the Sheema Classic, where he could run into the de Kock-trained Breeders' Cup Turf runner-up and Hong Kong Cup winner Eagle Mountain.

Indian Blessing, Fabulous Strike and Gayego are all in line for a tilt at the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen, a race won by American-trained sprinters in seven of its last eight renewals. Godolphin has plans for Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile third Two Step Salsa in either the World Cup or the Godolphin Mile.

The Dubai Racing Carnival, an 11-card series spread between mid-January and Dubai World Cup night, begins on Thursday at Nad Al Sheba with Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge, a one-mile Group 3 race on dirt that is more a prep for the Godolphin Mile than the World Cup.

Jara blooming in new setting

Fernando Jara is having a good season in the UAE since switching his tack there in November. The Panamanian rider made famous by Invasor has won 10 races, with 9 seconds and 9 thirds from 74 mounts, for earnings of $283,308, good for third place in the UAE standings. Jara is riding mainly for Hamdan Al Maktoum's trainer Doug Watson, who ranks third in races won with 12 but first in earnings at $419,243. Watson and Jara have helped Sheikh Hamdan to the top of the owner standings with 13 wins for earnings of $293,708 - not quite enough to finish paying for the new Meydan grandstand.