03/29/2012 2:13PM

Dubai World Cup: Royal Delta, Game On Dude carry American hopes in World Cup

Andrew Watkins
Royal Delta walks at Meydan with trainer Bill Mott. She aims to become the first female to win the World Cup.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – When Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom was withdrawn from consideration for Saturday’s $10 million Dubai World Cup due to injury, the world’s richest horse race may have lost some of its luster, at least among American viewers.

The promise of a rare duel between North America’s champion 3-year-old male (Animal Kingdom) and 3-year-old female (Royal Delta) in the desert would certainly have been a titillating appetizer for a weekend of significant Kentucky Derby prep races at Gulfstream Park and Fair Grounds.

Still, the presence of Royal Delta, Southern California’s top handicap male Game On Dude, and an international cast of the world’s top horses among its 14 runners makes the World Cup an intriguing event.

“It’s definitely an international field,” said Bill Mott, the Hall of Fame trainer of Royal Delta and winner of the inaugural Dubai World Cup in 1996 with Cigar. “It seems as though this race brought some of the best horses from every country. It’s good racing, and obviously we have some of the best trainers and jockeys and most competitive owners in the world, and that’s what makes it good. I think it’s a race that everybody wants to win.”

[DUBAI WORLD CUP: Free PPs, video preview, watch the races live]

The World Cup tops a nine-race card that begins at 8:30 a.m. Eastern, has purses worth $27.2 million, and features three Breeders’ Cup winners from a year ago. It is noteworthy that two of those winners – St Nicholas Abbey (Turf) and Wrote (Juvenile Turf) – hail from the barn of Aidan O’Brien, who has brought six horses to this year’s event, two more than his total for the previous 16 years.

The O’Brien-trained So You Think is the horse many view as the favorite for this year’s World Cup, run at 1 1/4 miles over the Tapeta surface at Meydan. So You Think is an eight-time Group 1 winner, but he hasn’t run since finishing sixth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last November and he has not made a dazzling physical appearance in his two mornings here on the track.

O’Brien was not scheduled to arrive from Ireland until Friday night and has been characteristically mum when it comes to dealing with the media.

Speaking to the Racing Post earlier this week, Joseph O’Brien, Aidan’s son and the rider of So You Think, gave an upbeat assessment of the horse’s chances.

“He’s in great form, and I think he will take all the beating,” he said. “The Breeders’ Cup came at the end of a long season, and hopefully he can show how good he is on Saturday.”

So You Think will not race with the blinkers he wore for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup.

Royal Delta and Game On Dude carry America’s hopes for an eighth victory in this race, first since Well Armed in 2009.

Royal Delta is seeking to become the first female horse to win this race. Six others have tried. Mott has been thinking about this race since before owner Benjamin Leon purchased the horse out of the November sale for $8.5 million, four days after she won the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic for the estate of Prince Khaled.

That Royal Delta had already won on a synthetic surface – albeit against allowance foes at Keeneland – and at 1 1/4 miles in the Alabama were the main reasons Mott wanted to tackle this challenge.

“I’ve always said first you try the distance and the surface that your horse wants to run and then you find the level of competition and you have the whole equation,” Mott said. “I think I got the first two. Now she’s just got to be good enough. We have to find that out.”

Mott and his assistant Leana Willaford believe Royal Delta has flourished over the Tapeta surface.

“I’m sort of quietly counting on her wanting this firmer type of a surface,” Mott said.

Trainer Bob Baffert won the World Cup in both 1998 and 2001. A third victory would be a remarkable conclusion to a whirlwind week that began with Baffert being hospitalized due to a heart attack. He said in a tweet Thursday that he had been released, and he is scheduled to attend the races Saturday.

Game On Dude got stuck in post 14 for the World Cup, but with his speed it shouldn’t make a difference – provided he breaks. The gates are a little smaller here than in America, and Game On Dude balked a few times going in during a schooling session Thursday.

“He has to break well, sometimes he doesn’t break well,” Baffert said of Game On Dude, who will be ridden by Chantal Sutherland. “If he gets away from there, he just needs to get into his rhythm and keep it up. If he goes too slow, then he’s not effective. Chantal rides him well, she knows him really well.”

Japanese-based horses finished 1-2 in last year’s World Cup, and there are three horses representing that country entered Saturday. Transcend, last year’s World Cup runner-up, is back for a second shot.

His trainer, Takayuki Yasuda, believes his horse is in equally as good condition for this year’s race as he was last year, though he admitted to being “shocked” with the horse’s seventh-place finish in The February Stakes, a Group 1 race run at Tokyo.

“He had a race here last year, which is a good advantage,” Yasuda said through an interpreter. “The only concern is the other horses. We don’t know if the other horses are good or bad.”

Smart Falcon has won nine consecutive races, but Einshin Flash, who has lost nine consecutive races against much tougher company, is viewed as Japan’s biggest threat.

The locally based contingent appears headed by the improving Capponi, who has two wins and two seconds this year after racing just once in 2011.

“When we run him last year, we thought he was ready but the horse said ‘no,’ he was weak, he needed time to recover,” said trainer Mohammed Al Zarooni, who also sends out Monterosso. “Capponi’s improving, but he’s [in] against good horses now. The speed is there, the stamina is there. I think the horse will run a good race.”

The Racing Post reported that Zazou, a Group 1 winner in Italy and a recent allowance winner in France was purchased privately Thursday by Ramzan Kadyrov, the controversial president of Chechnya, from Waldemar Hickst who also is the trainer. Hickst will train the horse at least for this race.

Master of Hounds, beaten a nose in the UAE Derby here last year, comes off a Group 1 win on turf March 10.

Planteur, Silver Pond, Prince Bishop, and Mendip complete the field.