02/23/2007 1:00AM

Global powers lay plans for World Cup card


NEW YORK - The annual American assault on Nad Al Sheba's Dubai World Cup Night on March 31 could be met with more than the usual resistance, not only from the far-flung array of trainers who have been wintering in Dubai for the International Racing Carnival, but from strong contingents converging from Japan and Australia.

Invasor, the older male Eclipse Award winner and Horse of the Year, will lead the American challenge in the Dubai World Cup, but as he is owned by Dubai's Sheikh Hamdan, he is as much a local hope as an American. His anticipated clash with the Godolphin-owned Discreet Cat, who will technically represent Dubai but is clearly of great interest to Americans, could well turn out to be the race of the year.

We will know more about Discreet Cat's condition after Dubai World Cup Preview Night this Thursday evening, when course and distance preps for all six of the races on World Cup Night will be run. Discreet Cat will, rather surprisingly, use the listed Burj Nahar, the traditional test for the Group 2 Godolphin Mile, as his World Cup prep.

"Discreet Cat has been training well and will go in the World Cup after his mile prep on Thursday," Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said Friday.

Premium Tap will add depth to the World Cup field, although his victory for trainer John Kimmel in the 1 1/2-mile King's Cup at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Saudi Arabia last week is a strange way of preparing for a major 1 1/4-mile Group 1. Sweetnorthernsaint and Brother Derek are under consideration for the the big race, as is Lava Man, who is being pointed for next Saturday's Santa Anita Handicap if the weights are to trainer Doug O'Neill's liking. Lava Man could run in the World Cup or the 1 1/8-mile Dubai Duty Free on grass. In either case his chances look slim as he would be running far from Southern California and without the aid of Butazolidin, two factors necessary to his well-being.

Japan will be represented in the World Cup by Vermilion. An El Condor Pasa 5-year-old, he is coming off a six-length victory in the Grade 1 Kawasaki Kinen at 1 5/16 miles on Jan. 31. England will have Kandidate, 5 3/4-length winner of the Round 2 Maktoum Challenge in the race. A Clive Brittain trainee, he may prep in Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge on Thursday night.

Given his record-setting performance at Gulfstream on Thursday, English Channel may rate a favorite's chance in the Dubai Duty Free, Lava Man or no Lava Man. His trainer, Todd Pletcher, is also considering both Honey Ryder and Host for the race, in which the Yanks could meet Linngari, the impressive winner of the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort on Thursday, and the dangerous Japanese invader Daiwa Major, who was a Grade 1 winner going a mile and 1 1/4 miles prior to his good third behind Deep Impact in the 1 9/16-mile Arima Kinen on Dec. 24. Godolphin has Best Name, the French Derby runner-up and Arc fourth, in Thursday's Group 2 Jebel Hatta as a trial run for the Duty Free.

Japanese horses must be strongly considered wherever they appear these days. That will certainly be the case in the 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic. Admire Moon and Pop Rock, the first two finishers in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen at 1 3/8 miles on Feb. 17, are expected. Admire Moon is best judged by his fast-closing second to world champion mare Pride in the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup on Dec. 11, while Pop Rock can be gauged by his nose second to countrymate Delta Blues in the two-mile Melbourne Cup in November, after which he split Deep Impact and Daiwa Major in the Arima Kinen. Both Japanese horses appear to have an edge over Sir Percy, the winner of a subpar Epsom Derby by a short head over the maiden Dragon Dancer. In his only start since, on Oct. 14, Sir Percy was seventh in the Champion Stakes won by Pride.

The local Sheema Classic hopes are the German-trained Quijano and the French-trained Laverock. Quijano made it nine in a row and 9 for 10 lifetime with his nose victory over Laverock in a 1 1/2-mile handicap at Nad Al Sheba on Feb. 9, when he was in receipt of eight pounds. At equal weights, however, Laverock must have an edge. Meanwhile, Godolphin will use Thursday's Group 3 Dubai City of Gold as a Sheema Classic prep for its Group 2 winner Best Alibi, third in the Irish Derby, and its two-time Group 2 winner Imperial Stride.

Americans have won six of the last seven runnings of the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen, and there is no reason why Proud Tower Too, Nightmare Affair, or Friendly Island shouldn't find the winner's circle this year. There is a real threat, however, in the form of the South African mare National Colour, the winner of two Group 1 sprints versus males in her native land on turf. She produced a weight-giving victory against inferior colts in a five-furlong dirt handicap at Nad Al Sheba on Feb. 15. Miss Andretti, winner of the first two legs of the Global Sprint Challenge on turf in Australia this winter, may also make the trip for the Golden Shaheen.

Godolphin will take the wraps off Day Pass in Thursday's Al Bastikiya, the local prep for the UAE Derby, which is, on the face of it, Dubai's Kentucky Derby trial. Day Pass could have his hands full with Asiatic Boy, the Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old who won the one-mile UAE 2000 Guineas by 4 1/2 lengths for trainer Mike de Kock on Feb. 9.

Through Friday, Godolphin is 0 for 27 at Nad Al Sheba dating to Jan. 11, but that doesn't concern Crisford.

"We never start running our good horses in Dubai until the first of March," he said. On that day we will see to what extent Sheikh Mohammed's juggernaut has progressed this season.