03/20/2002 12:00AM

Godolphin sleepers may awaken in Derby


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Godolphin nominated 19 runners to the Triple Crown, but as the Kentucky Derby prep season heads into late March, Essence of Dubai is the only one in the group to step forward. Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford hopes the UAE Derby changes that. Six of the 14 nominees in that race go under the Maktoum-Godolphin umbrella.

"We don't have any high profile colt that's hitting the headlines right now, but when you look at the way the Kentucky Derby trials are panning out in North America, you'd have to say right now there is nothing that is standing out as the red-hot favorite," Crisford said. "I think we have to wait for Saturday."

Essence of Dubai, winner of the Norfolk Stakes, enters the UAE Derby with the highest expectations, having won a mile prep Feb. 28 by a nose over UAE Derby entrant Firebreak. The Derby has been lengthened this year, from 1 1/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles. "Stretching to a mile and a quarter will really work in [Essence of Dubai's] favor," Crisford said, adding that Firebreak "is bred to go shorter distances, so we're really asking him a massive question stretching him out."

Godolphin's UAE Derby sleeper could be Ibn Al Haitham, unraced since his ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Entered in the race won by Essence of Dubai, Ibn Al Haitham was scratched when he came down with a skin disease. The runner-up in the Norfolk Stakes last fall at Santa Anita, Ibn Al Haitham, according to Crisford "has taken a long time to come around, but in the last three weeks he's really turned the corner. I think he'll run a huge race."

Crisford: Tempera 'unfocused' in loss

Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Tempera remains under consideration for the Kentucky Oaks, despite her five-length loss to Infinite Spirit last week. "She was unfocused,"Crisford said. "She was a little big edgy beforehand; she wasn't at the races that night."

Infinite Spirit, a light-framed filly, is not expected to race again before the Oaks, but Tempera and Imperial Gesture will start April 13 in the UAE Oaks. Crisford said: "We've got three fillies to choose from, and I'm sure one of them will turn up for the Kentucky Oaks."

Along with its 3-year-old Kentucky Oaks and Derby prospects, Godolphin will send three older horses to New York after the World Cup: Street Cry, who will point to summer handicap races; E Dubai, who is training for the Met Mile; and Express Tour, who will make his first start of 2002 in the U.S in a race yet to be determined.

McPeek in Dubai, thinking classics

Ken McPeek went to Dubai after all. The trainer of Kentucky Derby hopefuls Harlan's Holiday and Repent, McPeek was invited to Dubai despite withdrawing consideration of Repent as a possible starter in the UAE Derby. Wednesday morning, McPeek took in the view from Godolphin's Al Quoz training center. Eventually, he might return with a horse.

"We'll consider anything, and it [shipping to Dubai] is something I would love to do one day, but the timing [this year] is not right," he said. Recent wins by Harlan's Holiday, Repent, and the filly Take Charge Lady enabled McPeek and his wife, Sue, to take a short break before the spectacle of the Triple Crown. "We had a little lull in the action," he said.

With one more prep race to go for Repent and Harlan's Holiday, McPeek offered insight into his Kentucky Derby prospects. He said a slow or wet track would benefit Repent, and a fast track would benefit Harlan's Holiday. Take Charge Lady might be nominated to the Triple Crown races, but McPeek said the owner "wouldn't want to run [her and Repent] against each other." A Derby start for the filly would "all depend on how Repent's doing."

Short price on Sakhee in World Cup

Sakhee remains the heavy favorite in the Dubai World Cup in the odds offered by English bookmaker William Hill. Sakhee is listed odds-on at 4-6, followed by Agnes Digital at 4-1. Western Pride took significant action Tuesday, his odds dropping from 20-1 to 16-1.

Johannesburg continues well backed in Kentucky Derby wagering. William Hills is offering 9-2 on the colt, followed by Harlan's Holiday at 5-1 and Repent at 10-1. Johannesburg also is listed as the 9-4 favorite (with a run) for the 2000 Guineas.

Hong Kong next for Western Pride?

The sale of Dubai World Cup starter Western Pride to a Saudi Arabian Prince was completed Sunday, according to James Chapman, who trains the colt with his son, Jim. "They just kept throwing prices at us, and it wasn't what I wanted," he said.

Chapman declined to reveal the sales price, but said "we never moved. They wanted Jim to train for them [in Saudi Arabia], but I said I don't think he's interested. They were trying to use that as leverage."

Western Pride was nearly sold last fall at Calder, but no deal was reached. His subsequent Grade 2 win in the San Fernando and a runner-up finish in the Santa Anita Handicap, according to Chapman, caused his price to increase by a multitple of "two or three times."

While plans for Western Pride will not be solidified until after the World Cup, Chapman said he expects to continue training Western Pride. A $1.8 million turf race in Hong Kong is being considered.

Workouts resume

Skies cleared Wednesday and the weather was warm, allowing Nad Al Sheba main track and turf course to dry out enough for workouts. Agnes Digital, second choice in the Dubai World Cup, worked six furlongs on turf (dogs up 15 feet) in 1:16.23. To The Victory, runner-up in last year's World Cup, worked a slow half-mile in 53.36 seconds on the main track.

Sheema Classic contender Hot Secret worked three furlongs in 36.40. Godolphin Mile starter Peeping Tom worked three furlongs in 39.81.