03/25/2004 1:00AM

It's two against the world

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Horsephotos
Pleasantly Perfect, Cheryl Brown up, gallops Wednesday.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Pleasantly Perfect and Medaglia d'Oro, the top older horses in the United States, seek higher acclaim Saturday when they clash in the world's richest race, the $6 million at Nad Al Sheba racecourse.

A victory carries the title of top dirt horse in the world, and there is a prize of $3.6 million for the winner.

Run over 1 1/4 miles, the World Cup is a rematch between the first two finishers of the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita last October. In that race, Pleasantly Perfect, dismissed at 14-1, rallied through the stretch to upset favored Medaglia d'Oro. Since then, both have enhanced their reputations with stylish wins in important stakes.

For Medaglia d'Oro, a victory would reverse a streak of disappointing runner-up finishes in big races, including the last two Breeders' Cup Classics, the 2003 Pacific Classic, and the 2002 Belmont Stakes.

For Pleasantly Perfect, a victory would stretch his winning streak to four and give trainer Richard Mandella his first World Cup victory after three second-place finishes in the late 1990's.

A win by one of the other 10 starters would be a surprise, including rival American invaders Domestic Dispute and Fleetstreet Dancer. The other eight runners include locally based horses Victory Moon and State Shinto, who have won the three World Cup prep races at Nad Al Sheba.

The Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing has won the last two World Cups with Moon Ballad and Street Cry but have only an outsider this year in Grand Hombre. The winner of the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park last September, Grande Hombre has not started since finishing second to Excessivepleasure in the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park last October. That race is Grand Hombre's only loss in five starts.

The others are longshots: Admire Don, Regent Bluff, and Silent Deal, all from Japan; Dinyeper, a multiple stakes winner from Turkey; and King's Boy, a shipper from Saudi Arabia.

The World Cup is the final event of a seven-race program worth $15.25 million in purses. Racing at Nad Al Sheba is conducted in the evening because of the desert climate of the Emirates, a tiny nation on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf. Local post time for the World Cup is 8:20 p.m., which is 12:20 p.m. Eastern and 9:20 a.m. Pacific in the United States.

Race strategy will focus on Medaglia d'Oro, a 5-year-old by El Prado who is trained by Bobby Frankel and owned by Edmund Gann. Jerry Bailey, who has won four of the eight runnings of the Dubai World Cup, has the mount.

Medaglia d'Oro breaks from post 11 and can lead or stalk the pace, depending on how the race unfolds on Nad Al Sheba's triangular-shaped racetrack.

"It's got a nice mixture of horses," Mandella said. "Bobby's horse looks like the speed. I'm probably in the middle somewhere."

Medaglia d'Oro may have company early from Dinyeper and, perhaps, Silent Deal.

"I think he can run better a few lengths off the pace," said Jose Cuevas, an exercise rider who traveled with Medaglia d'Oro. "I think we've got a good chance but we'll have to beat Mandella's horse and Victory Moon."

Pleasantly Perfect, a 6-year-old by Pleasant Colony and owned by Gerald Ford, will be in mid-pack, which jockey Alex Solis said gives him plenty of options. Solis knows he will need to have plenty of horse left at the top of the stretch, which covers more than three furlongs of the race.

"Medaglia d'Oro is the horse to beat," Solis said. "They'll all have an eye on mine, too."

Victory Moon, a 5-year-old by Al Mufti, was bred in South Africa and is trained by Michael de Kock. Victory Moon has won five of seven starts at Nad Al Sheba, including the final World Cup prep race at the Cup distance of 1 1/4 miles.

Fleetstreet Dancer's only victory in the last 16 months came in the Japan Cup Dirt, his first trip outside of the United States. Fleetstreet Dancer, 6, has thrived in Dubai, according to Leandro Mora, an assistant trainer to Doug O'Neill.

"He's been a different horse than in America," Mora said.

A placing would be equal to a win for Paddy Gallagher, who trains Domestic Dispute. "I'd be thrilled," he said. "I know about Medaglia d'Oro and Pleasantly Perfect, but I don't know about the others."

Thursday, Medaglia d'Oro was a slight favorite with English bookmakers. He has been favored in his last nine starts.

Last fall, Medaglia d'Oro was the 5-2 favorite to win the Breeders' Cup Classic and led in the final furlong. But he offered little resistance when Pleasantly Perfect came to him in deep stretch. The margin between the two that day was 1 1/2 lengths. On Saturday, Pleasantly Perfect may have a tougher battle.

The field

Dubai World Cup
Purse:
$6 million; 1 1/4 miles; Group 1

NOPPHORSEJOCKEYODDS
31Domestic DisputeG. Stevens12-1
62King's BoyM. Kinane50-1
13Admire DonK. Ando8-1
24DinyeperH. Karatas50-1
95Regent BluffY. Yoshida50-1
106Silent DealY. Take25-1
87Pleasantly PerfectA. Solis5-2
58Grand HombreL. Dettori25-1
129Victory MoonW. Marwing4-1
410Fleetstreet DancerJ. Court10-1
711Medaglia d'OroJ. Bailey2-1
1112State ShintoT. Durcan50-1

* All starters carry 126 pounds
* Odds by Alan Shuback