03/31/2007 12:00AM

Invasor wins World Cup stretch duel

Michael J. Marten/Horsephotos
Invasor, with Fernando Jara up, wins the Dubai World Cup.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - In 2005, Invasor was a champion, dominating the competition in Group 1 stakes race after race. But that was in Uruguay, which will not be confused with any horseracing nexus on the planet, and when Invasor finished fourth, beaten seven lengths by Discreet Cat, in the 2006 UAE Derby at Nad Al Sheba, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin didn't know quite what to think.

Back in the U.S., with Invasor ready to run again in May, McLaughlin lightly circled the $100,000 William Schaefer Handicap as a nice little jumping-off point for the rest of the year. But Rich Nichols, racing manager for Shadwell Stable, had another suggestion. "Why don't you try him in the Pimlico Special?" McLaughlin recalls Nichols saying.

Most any racing fan knows the story from there. Invasor won the Special, won the rest of his 2006 starts, and was named Horse of the Year after beating Bernardini in the Breeders' Cup Classic. And Saturday night in Dubai, he landed an even bigger prize for owner Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum - the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

Invasor had to win a stretch-long battle against a worthy foe, but not with the horse many expected to put up such a fight. Premium Tap refused to bend under relentless pressure from Invasor, only giving way in the final half-furlong, but Discreet Cat, the horse many thought could win the World Cup, suffered a rattling defeat, finishing last of seven, 23 lengths behind Invasor.

"I was beaten before I ever turned for home," said Frankie Dettori, Discreet Cat's jockey. "He was never there for me tonight."

Invasor edged away from Premium Tap to win the 2000-meter race, which is just short of 1 1/4 miles, by 1 3/4 lengths. It was eight lengths more back to third-place Bullish Luck, who was followed by Vermilion, Forty Licks, Kandidate, and Discreet Cat. Invasor's time of 1:59.97 was the second fastest in the 12-year history of the World Cup, slower only than Dubai Millenium's 1:59.50 in 2000. Invasor, a 5-year-old son of Candy Stripes, was bred in Argentina, and now has won 11 of his 12 career starts. He paid $4 to win in U.S. pools as a slight favorite over Discreet Cat.

The $3.6 million winner's share of the World Cup purse boosted his earnings to $7,804,070, the fourth-best total in racing history. Should Invasor complete his season with another Breeders' Cup Classic win, he would surpass Cigar atop the all-time earnings list. McLaughlin said Invasor might next start in the Suburban Handicap on June 30 at Belmont.

Saturday night's World Cup unfolded precisely as nobody thought it would. Kandidate and Discreet Cat, the two horses expected to lead, were last and second last 100 yards into the race, while Premium Tap overcame a brief stumble and ran up to the front, Invasor pressing on the outside.

"I was a little concerned when we broke on top the first eighth," said McLaughlin, who trained in Dubai for 10 years before returning to the U.S.

The young jockey Fernando Jara, who only a year ago was riding the Aqueduct inner-track meet, said he never was concerned, even with Invasor surprisingly close to the lead. "I knew I had a lot of horse," Jara said.

Dettori first probed the inside with Discreet Cat, then sent him wide around the turn, but by the top of the long Nad Al Sheba stretch, it became clear Discreet Cat was out of it. Premium Tap and Invasor swung into the stretch full bore, and as a vividly multiethnic crowd of some 40,000 turned up the volume, they separated themselves from the pack.

"At the 400 meters, I couldn't lose," said Premium Tap's jockey, Kent Desormeaux. "I had so much horse, I was going to win easily. But the last 200 meters, he just ate me up, stride by stride."

Invasor has done that to a lot of horses; he was doing it when McLaughlin tried to decide where to run last May.

"We didn't know what we had, but he outworked everybody every time," McLaughlin said. "Not by a lot, a neck, a head. The rider that was on him kept telling me, 'I have more gears, I have more gears.' "

Invasor has plenty of gears - enough to make him the best dirt horse in the world.