03/23/2010 12:00AM

Japanese filly taking her shot at history


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Red Desire, a 4-year-old Japanese filly, has earned her way into Saturday's $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan racecourse. She will make history if she wins.

No Japan-based horse, or filly or mare from any country, has won the Dubai World Cup in the race's 14-year history. Six have tried, with a runner-up finish by the Japanese mare To the Victory in 2001 ranking as the best result. Red Desire will be the first female to start since Aquarelliste finished ninth in 2003.


Expecting such a milestone from Red Desire would have seemed outlandish last fall. Her last two starts have changed that view, and she had a strong workout at Meydan on Tuesday.

A third-place finish in the $5.49 million Japan Cup against males last November gave the filly, a two-time stakes winner at the time, a greater international reputation. Then she won Round 3 of the $300,000 Maktoum Challenge over about

1 1/4 miles on the Tapeta synthetic track here on March 4, giving trainer Mikio Matsunaga and her owners, the Tokyo Horse Racing Club partnership, a reason to try the Dubai World Cup. Until that win, the $5 million Sheema Classic on Saturday's undercard was the goal.

"After watching her previous race, it was obvious she ran well on Tapeta," Matsunaga said on Tuesday morning through an interpreter.

"I originally planned for the Sheema. The expectation for Round 3 was that she would be fit for the Sheema. Her race on that day was way beyond expectation."

Red Desire enhanced her standing with a half-mile workout in 50.50 seconds on Tuesday. Japanese clockers timed the final 200 meters, or about a furlong, in 10.80 seconds. When galloping out, the filly seemed to move easily over the surface.

Red Desire is a closer and will need to negotiate her way through an expected full field in the Dubai World Cup. The race has 14 probable starters, including three American-based runners - Gio Ponti, the champion older male and turf horse of 2009; Richard's Kid, who won the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita last month; and Furthest Land, the winner of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile last November.

Three runners based in Europe in recent weeks all merit respect. Twice Over, from England, was third in the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall; France-based Vision d'Etat has won three Group 1 races in the last year; and Gitano Hernando, the winner of the Goodwood Stakes at Santa Anita last October, won a minor stakes in England last month in his 2010 debut.

Six horses made their last starts in Dubai or are based in this region. Gloria de Campeao, Mr. Brock, Allybar, and Lizard's Desire were second through fifth behind Red Desire on March 4. Crowded House was second to Allybar in the second round of the Maktoum Challenge on Feb. 18. Mastery has not started since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Marathon at Santa Anita in November. Amor de Pobre was a stakes winner in Saudi Arabia in January and will be a longshot.

Only Vision d'Etat, with earnings of $3,881,813, has more prize money than Red Desire, a winner of 4 of 8 starts and $3,399,134. Red Desire won two stakes on turf against fillies last year - a race over about a mile in February, her second start, and the Group 1 Shuka Sho over about

1 1/4 miles at Kyoto in October, her final start before the Japan Cup.

From the time she began serious training at 2, she impressed her 42-year-old trainer.

"When I started riding her and others started riding her, we thought she was special," Matsunaga said.

Red Desire has never finished worse than third. When she wins, it is not by much. Her first three wins were by a nose, and the Maktoum Challenge earlier this month was by a neck.

The trainer thinks she may do just enough to win.

"She runs according to the competition," Matsunaga said.