Updated on 09/17/2011 10:10AM

Nayef at 5-1 a World Cup play

Email

The world of Thoroughbred racing turns its attention to the Middle East on Saturday, but for pleasant reasons. Dubai in the United Arab Emirates will be the focal point, and the main attraction will be the $6 million .

The World Cup is the world's richest race, and it is the highlight on a program that is also the world's richest, thanks to five other stakes for Thoroughbreds worth another $9.25 million. Four of these races will be available for simulcast wagering in this country: the Dubai Sheema Classic, the Dubai Golden Shaheen, the Dubai Duty Free, and, of course, the World Cup.

As for the stakes action here at home, the main events Saturday are the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap, which lost only Harlan's Holiday to the World Cup despite having a purse that is only 1/20th the size, the $200,000 Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup for sprinters at Santa Anita, the $150,000 Distaff Breeders' Cup at Aqueduct, and the $250,000 WinStar Sunland Park Oaks. The Oaks at Sunland, a prelude to Sunday's $500,000 WinStar Derby, begins the biggest weekend in Sunland's history of Thoroughbred racing.

Here are three races that, hopefully, will make for a big weekend for us:

Dubai World Cup

A morning line on this race, provided by Coral Eurobet appearing in Friday's Racing Form, found Nayef the favorite at approximately 8-5, Moon Ballad at 3-1, Grandera at 9-2, Aquarelliste at 6-1, and Harlan's Holiday at 7-1. Maybe those odds will hold true in betting shops in England, but in the simulcast pools here, I expect these odds to be almost completely flip-flopped.

At the very least, I think the odds here on Harlan's Holiday will be substantially lower, and the odds on Nayef will be much higher. This is crucial, because if I'm right, a strongly bet Harlan's Holiday is a bet against, and a Nayef at 5-1 or greater is a solid play.

Nayef will be making his first career start on dirt in the World Cup. But he was mentioned as a possibility for the Breeders' Cup Classic a couple of times, and being a son of Gulch he should be able to handle the surface switch. Most importantly, Nayef is a top-class multiple Group 1 winner, and the 1 1/4-mile distance is right in his wheelhouse. In addition, Nayef has already shown the ability to win a big one in Dubai. He won the Sheema Classic last year.

As for Harlan's Holiday, there is no question that he is the most accomplished dirt horse in this field. He is also in career form, with his recent victory in the Donn Handicap being his best race yet. But Harlan's Holiday has never seemed comfortable going beyond 1 1/8 miles.

WinStar Sunland Park Oaks

It's not every day I pick a maiden in a stakes race. Then again, it's not every day Sunland Park hosts a $250,000 stakes race. You have to be flexible in this game, and I'm going with the maiden Island Fashion here.

Island Fashion actually made the first start of her career in a stakes race, and though that was a distant fourth in the Arizona Oaks, (a) her entrymate won it, (b) she did make a middle move, and (c) she was beaten only a little more than a length for second. As expected, she showed marked improvement to miss, just barely, against maidens most recently at Santa Anita.

Island Fashion has worked well since, she stretches back out to a suitable distance, and she figures to show only more improvement. If she does, the rest of this group, including the favored Souris, won't be able to contain her.

Gulfstream Park Handicap

This looks like a great spot for Hero's Tribute. He'll be tracking the pace of Generous Rosi, who looks like a candidate to regress after a recent gut-wrenching win off a layoff, and there really is no other speed in this 1 1/4-mile race.

But Hero's Tribute may not be as effective going this far, and he figures to be the favorite, so the pick is Puzzlement. Puzzlement finished third in the Donn, behind Hero's Tribute, last time out, but he was gaining late. He should love the additional furlong, and is primed for a peak performance third start off the layoff.