03/14/2010 11:00PM

Gio Ponti heads U.S. team for World Cup card

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Dubai World Cup favorite Gio Ponti heads an American team of nine horses who will contest five of the seven big races on March 27 at Meydan, where the $26 million program retains its position as the single richest day in Thoroughbred racing.

Gio Ponti was a two-time Eclipse Award winner in 2009 and finished second to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride surface, which bears a strong similarity to Meydan's synthetic Tapeta track. A Christophe Clement-trained 5-year-old son of Tale of the Cat, Gio Ponti is one of four American-trained horses that will go in the World Cup, which at $10 million has received a boost of $4 million in honor of the inaugural season at the glittering new Meydan Racecourse.

The other three Americans are the Bob Baffert-trained Richard's Kid, winner of the San Antonio Handicap on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride; the Mike Maker-trained Furthest Land, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride but only fifth in the San Antonio; and the Todd Pletcher-trained Take the Points, who was most recently disqualified from first in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap and who has not run on a synthetic surface since finishing fourth in last April's Santa Anita Derby.

The American quartet will be challenged by two of Europe's best 10-furlong horses in Vision d'Etat and Twice Over, both of whom will be running without benefit of a prep race, as will Godolphin's St. Leger winner and Breeders' Cup Marathon third Mastery. Perhaps the biggest danger to Gio Ponti will be Team Valor and Gary Barber's British-trained Gitano Hernando, the Goodwood Stakes winner at Santa Anita in October who looked sharp taking the Winter Derby Trial on the Lingfield Park Polytrack on Feb. 27. The Japanese filly Red Desire, who closed like a freight train to win Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge on March 4 over the World Cup course and distance, should also make her presence felt.

Two Americans will go in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free at 1 1/8 miles on turf. They are the Bill Mott-trained Courageous Cat, fresh from a head victory in Gulfstream's Canadian Turf Stakes after his sharp second to Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and the Jim Cassidy-trained The Usual Q.T., who had his six-race winning streak on turf ended when last of nine in the Sunshine Millions Classic on the Santa Anita Pro-Ride. The two Americans face a stern test from Alexandros, Bankable, Deem, Imbongi, and Presvis, all group race winners on the Meydan turf this winter, as well as three-time Hong Kong Mile winner Good Ba Ba.

Presious Passion will surely try and take them all the way in the $5 million, 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic. The Mary Hartmann trainee proved his international worth when a game second to Conduit in the Breeders' Cup Turf and announced his readiness for Dubai when taking the 1 3/8-mile Mac Diarmada at Gulfstream on Feb. 28. He will be opposed by BC Turf third and fourth Dar Re Mi and Spanish Moon, the hot Japanese filly Buena Vista, and three-time Arc runner-up Youmzain.

The $2 million, six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen has been dominated by American horses throughout its history, but with the race being run on a synthetic surface this year, only one Yank has taken up the challenge. That is the Carl O'Callaghan-trained Kinsale King, whose victories in the Vernon Underwood at Hollywood and the Palos Verdes at Santa Anita could make him the favorite in the one-turn, American-style race. The Godolphin runner Gayego, 2 3/4 lengths second in the Al Shindagha Sprint after his unlucky but close fourth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, is the best of the rest, who include the champion turf sprinters from Japan, Laurel Guerreiro, and Singapore, Rocket Man.

With Zabeel Racing's undefeated Conveyance opting out of the UAE Derby, the $2 million, 1 3/16-mile prep for the Kentucky Derby looks like a battle between Mendip, Godolphin's 6 1/4-length Al Bastikiya winner, and Musir, the Mike de Kock-trained winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas, who as a Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old is ineligible for the Kentucky Derby. Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vale of York will attempt to make amends for his dull fifth in the Al Bastikiya.

California Flag will take on the world in the newly carded $1 million Al Quoz Sprint over a straight six furlongs on turf. The Brian Koriner-trained winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint has been absent since his game fifth behind Sacred Kingdom in the Hong Kong Sprint on Dec. 13. He will be facing Australian Group 1 winner All Silent, German Group 2 winner War Artist, and Hong Kong Sprint third Joy and Fun.

The draw for the World Cup will be held on March 24. The draw for the other six races on the card, including the $1 million Godolphin Mile in which no Americans will be running, will be held on March 22.