01/28/2003 1:00AM

Five from U.S. invited to World Cup


Horse of the Year Azeri heads the list of invitees to the $6 million Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba March 29.

The daughter of Jade Hunter is one of five American-trained horses to receive an invitation to the World Cup, the others being Medaglia d'Oro, Harlan's Holiday, Congaree, and Repent. The 1 1/4-mile race has been won by American horses in three of its seven runnings. Cigar won the inaugural edition in 1996. Bob Baffert, Congaree's trainer, then engineered Silver Charm's 1998 triumph and followed up with Captain Steve in 2001.

"Azeri's participation depends upon her sale in early March and whether her new owners wish to take up the challenge in Dubai," said Dubai World Cup Committee chairman Les Benton.

With tensions in the Mideast mounting over the possibility of war with Iraq, which lies just 100 miles across the Persian Gulf from Dubai, there are concerns that America's World Cup participation might be reduced this year. But Dubai World Cup Committee racing secretary Kevin Greely thinks otherwise.

"The feedback from the U.S.A. is very positive," Greely said. "It is the most positive we have received at this time in comparison to previous Dubai World Cups. We are cautiously optimistic everything will be good and we hope to have a large representation from the United States again."

Last year, there were two American-trained winners on the World Cup undercard, as Caller One took his second straight Dubai Golden Shaheen and Grey Memo won the Godolphin Mile.

Other foreign invitees are Northerly from Australia and Admire Don and Eagle Cafe from Japan.

Also invited to the World Cup is the Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned Nayef, who has been in Dubai since December.

Nayef, winner of the Juddmonte International at York for trainer Marcus Tregoning, has also been invited to the $2 million Dubai Sheema Classic, a 1 1/2-mile Group 1 race on turf. The Sheema field could include the French-trained pair of Ange Gabriel and Aquarelliste, the first two finishers in the Hong Kong Vase, and Media Puzzle, the Dermot Weld-trained winner of the Melbourne Cup.

Xtra Heat, third in last year's six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen, heads the list of invitees to the renewal of that $2 million Group 1 sprint.