03/21/2010 11:00PM

Gitano Hernando looks ready for a big race

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The colt swept into Santa Anita last fall, plundered the Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes as an 18-1 outsider, and then skipped town before the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Gitano Hernando may have missed the richest race on the American calendar last year, but he is firmly among the contenders for the world's most lucrative race, Saturday's $10 million Dubai World Cup at the newly launched Meydan racecourse.

By missing the American showcase last November, Gitano Hernando is better prepared for the Dubai World Cup, according to the colt's 33-year-old Italian-born and English-based trainer, Marco Botti.

"He missed the Breeders' Cup, and it's probably a good thing," Botti said on this track's sprawling backstretch Monday morning. "He would have needed to have extra improvement to win the Breeders' Cup. He's more mature than last year, perhaps he should improve."

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The Dubai World Cup, run over 1 1/4 miles on Tapeta, has been a goal for owners Gary Barber and the Team Valor partnership since Gitano Hernando left California last fall. The 4-year-old colt had a break in late autumn and early winter before resuming training.

"He came back around really quickly," Botti said.

In his only start this year, Gitano Hernando won the Winter Derby Trial by 4 1/2 lengths over 1 1/4 miles on Polytrack at Lingfield, England, on Feb. 27. He was heavily favored and had a perfect trip under jockey Kieren Fallon, who has the mount in the Dubai World Cup.

"The race was run in a good time, and he won by [nearly] five lengths," Botti said.

"I know we're ready for a big race."

Botti, who has 65-horse stable in Newmarket, England, realizes that Gitano Hernando needs a career-best effort to win Saturday.

"It's a step up, but he did well at Santa Anita," he said. "This race looks tougher than he faced at Santa Anita, taking on Gio Ponti and Twice Over."

The winner's circle of the Dubai World Cup has been the nearly exclusive province of American shippers and locally based runners for much of its 14-year history. Singspiel, who won the second running in 1997, is the only horse trained in Europe to win the race, doing so under the direction of Michael Stoute. Of the other 13, eight were based in the United States and five were based in Dubai as part of the Maktoum family's racing stables.

Saturday's race features five European-based runners. Three were based on that continent in recent weeks - Gitano Hernando; Twice Over, who was third in the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic and races for Henry Cecil of England; and Vision d'Etat, who is based in France and has won Group 1 races in France, England, and Hong Kong in the last year.

Two others are trained by Europeans but have started at Meydan in recent weeks - Crowded House (Brian Meehan) and Gloria de Campeao (Pascal Bary). They were second in separate prep races in February and March.

They are joined by three American-based runners - Gio Ponti, the champion turf male and older male of 2009; Furthest Land, the winner of the BC Dirt Mile last November; and Richard's Kid, who won the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita last month. On Monday, Furthest Land breezed a half-mile in 50.46 seconds and Richard's Kid worked a half-mile in 47.97, according to Dubai racing officials.

Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing has two hopes - Allybar and Mastery. South African-based trainer Michael de Kock has two outsiders who have run at Meydan in recent weeks - Lizard's Desire and Mr Brock. The Japanese 4-year-old filly Red Desire, third in the Japan Cup last November, is the lone female in the race.

Vision d'Etat is the 4-1 favorite with European bookmakers, but Gio Ponti (5-1 in Europe) is likely to be the choice in the American parimutuel pool.

There was a change to the list of Dubai World Cup probable starters over the weekend. Take the Points, winner of two Grade 1 turf stakes for 3-year-olds last summer and fall for Todd Pletcher in the United States, will start in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free on turf on the undercard of the eight-race program.

The longshot Amor de Pobre, a 5-year-old Chilean-bred gelding, will start in the Dubai World Cup. Trained by Jerry Barton, Amor de Pobre was third in a $53,200 stakes over about 1 1/2 miles on dirt in Saudi Arabia on Feb. 12. In his only start in a Group 1, Amor de Pobre won the 2009 El Derby over about 1 1/2 miles on turf in Chile.