03/22/2002 12:00AM

Nearly time to say good-bye to Dubai


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The morning after the $6 million Dubai World Cup, the shiny, year-old grandstand at Nad Al Sheba racecourse will be empty.

On the racetrack, more than 50 Godolphin 2-year-olds were scheduled for their daily gallop. Soon, they will begin their careers in the United States. Six are colts by A.P. Indy, including a half-brother to Came Home. How good are they? That will be determined during the heart of the 2-year-old season, at Del Mar and Saratoga. Trained by Eoin Harty, the 2-year-olds leave Dubai on flights on April 6 and 10.

After the World Cup, the thing for horsemen to do is leave Dubai. This is the Saudi desert, and it is starting to get hot. The average high summer temperature is 105 degrees. Horses do not do well in the heat, and there are big races to shoot for, in cooler climates all around the globe.

The morning after the Dubai World Cup, Godolphin star Sakhee presumably will be sleeping off his hard day's work. But his season has just begun. As Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said, "With Sakhee, it obviously is one race at a time, but he will run on two different surfaces on three continents."

The Prince of Wales's Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Royal Ascot is one major goal for Sakhee; the Breeders' Cup Classic on dirt in fall at Arlington is another.

Val Royal, the prerace favorite for the $2 million Dubai Duty Free, thrived in Dubai.

"He loves it here. He loves to ship, this horse," trainer Julio Canani said before the race. "At the Breeders' Cup he was the same way. Maybe after this, I'll take him to Hong Kong."

Canani was referring to the $1.8 million Queen Elizabeth II Cup on April 21 at Sha Tin. But making that trip is unlikely. Barring the unforeseen, Canani said he probably would aim Val Royal for the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile on May 27 at Hollywood Park.

Meanwhile, one horse who will go to Hong Kong is Western Pride. Runner-up in the Santa Anita Handicap and the horse who was expected to set the pace in the Dubai World Cup, Western Pride, will continue to be trained by James Chapman, whose father, Jim, said the Hong Kong turf race was next.

The Queen Elizabeth II Cup is the second leg of the World Series Racing Championships, a concept that is without a sponsor. Emirates Airlines backed the series the first three years but has withdrawn and entered a sponsorship agreement with Godolphin, private racing stable of Dubai's ruling family, the Maktoums.

International racing in general, and an international series in particular, has not sparked the imagination of American racing fans. The lack of interest was expected to

continue this year because of the lack of any American horse in the Dubai World Cup. But the U.S. absence in the big race this year may be an aberration. Through 2001, the U.S. had been represented by more runners (39) in World Cup races than all other countries except the United Arab Emirates (249) and England (45).

The lack of American participation in the richest race this year was disappointing to World Cup officials.

"It is, but if you haven't got any socks, you can't pull them up, can you?" said World Cup chairman Les Benton. Translation: The U.S. handicap division has bottomed out because of injury and retirement. If Breeders' Cup Classic winner Tiznow had stayed in training, the rematch between him and Classic runner-up Sakhee would have generated worldwide interest.

Instead, the Dubai World Cup starters were scheduled to scatter about. Plans called for Sakhee to return to England. Agnes Digital was to go back to Japan. Street Cry was to return to the U.S. for a summer campaign in New York.

In the Middle East port city of Dubai, racing stables will soon be empty. The morning after the $6 million Dubai World Cup, it was time to go home.