03/26/2008 11:00PM

Godolphin pair strong in Duty Free


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Godolphin has been the runaway Dubai World Cup Night leader in wins, but the locally based juggernaut pitched a shutout in 2007. On Saturday, Godolphin has chances in all six Thoroughbred stakes on the World Cup program, perhaps none better than in the $5 million Duty Free.

Godolphin has two top-class horses for the Duty Free, which is run over 1,777 meters, or just less than 1 1/8 miles on the Nad Al Sheba grass course. Literato, winner of the prestigious Group 1 Champion Stakes the last time he raced, makes his first start for Godolphin and trainer Saeed bin Suroor, while Creachadoir carries the Godolphin blue for the first time since finishing second by a nose in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile on Dec. 9. Both are fine racehorses, but the Duty Free drew a ridiculously deep field of 16, and many others can win.

The race also includes the filly Darjina, who looked like the best miler in Europe before being undone by soft turf in the Queen Elizabeth II last September at Ascot. Finsceal Beo, another 4-year-old filly, would have been rated Darjina's equal during the first half of 2007. A third filly, the Japanese horse Vodka, won the Group 1 Japanese Derby over males by three lengths last May.

Hong Kong-based trainer Tony Cruz has two sharp contenders, the ageless Bullish Luck, who makes his third trip to Dubai, and Floral Pegasus, whose form is as strong as any in the race. The lone American, Notional, is in deep water.

Literato had been considered for the 1 1/2-mile Sheema Classic last week, but was redirected to the shorter Duty Free after Ramonti, Godolphin's top middle-distance horse, was unable to make the race. Literato's three-race winning streak last fall came in 1 1/4-mile races, but Godolphin's first-call rider, Frankie Dettori, has wound up here rather than on Creachadoir, and Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford believes the shorter Duty Free is within Literato's scope.

"He has plenty of speed," Crisford said. "He actually has enough speed to go a mile."

That may be, but Creachadoir is more obviously suited to the Duty Free, which often plays to quicker miler types than horses who require 1 1/4 miles for their best. Second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas last spring, Creachadoir finished a strong second to the high-class Good Ba Ba last out in the Hong Kong Mile.

Just behind Creachadoir in Hong Kong was Darjina, who had a troubled trip. The conditions here should suit Darjina, and trainer Alain Royer-Dupre said the race's distance should be fine. But Royer-Dupre cautioned that Darjina, who has post 11, might not be fully cranked for her first start in nearly three months.

"She's well, but she's maybe not at the very top," Royer-Dupre said.

Despite advanced age, 9-year-old Bullish Luck recovered from a fractured knee last summer, and comes off a strong third in the Groupo1 Hong Kong Gold Cup.

"He's strong as nails, and he's got legs of steel," Cruz said.

But it is Cruz's other horse, Floral Pegasus, who is the more solid play Saturday. Floral Pegasus, well drawn in post 3, has not won in more than a year, but was highly competitive in Hong Kong's best races throughout 2007.

Finally, while Vodka has the established Japanese Group 1 form, another Japanese horse, Admire Aura, appears to be improving, and may be ready for a career-best race Saturday night.

Indeed, nothing short of a horse's best is likely to suffice in the 2008 Duty Free.