05/27/2007 11:00PM

No heir apparent to Invasor


NEW YORK - Invasor has had two published workouts, both half-mile breezes, since he returned to this country after winning the Dubai World Cup in late March. If he is to start in the June 30 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park, one would expect Invasor to have a more serious move very soon.

A Breeders' Cup Classic victory over Bernardini last fall clinched 2006 Horse of the Year honors for Invasor and extended an undefeated streak in this country that has since grown. The BC win, combined with his Dubai Cup score, makes Invasor undisputedly the best dirt horse in the world until proven otherwise.

But paying close attention to Invasor's work schedule, which obviously plays a significant role in what his racing schedule will be, has more significance than simply paying a champion the proper respect.

Of course, the big question regarding Invasor is, How will he rebound from his trip to the Dubai Cup? Although he is owned by Sheikh Hamdan al-Maktoum, a member of the ruling family of Dubai, Invasor went to the Dubai Cup like a typical American-based racehorse, which he has been for more than a year now. He prepped for the Dubai Cup in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, overcoming a troubled trip to win with great style.

Unfortunately, for every American-based horse like Cigar, Formal Gold, Silver Charm, Victory Gallop, and Aptitude, who were able to perform at a high level back in this country in a reasonably short time frame after competing in the Dubai Cup, there is a list of American horses two to three times as long who were never the same after racing in the Dubai Cup, or took a very long time to recapture a semblance of peak form. This longer list includes some very good horses, such as Soul of the Matter, Siphon, Sandpit, Behrens, Captain Steve, Harlan's Holiday, Pleasantly Perfect, and Roses in May.

This discussion is not about whether it was wise for Invasor to compete in the Dubai Cup, or even if he should have approached that race in the typical fashion of an American-based horse rather than, say, wintering in Dubai instead of Florida. Given his ownership, there was never any doubt that so long as he was healthy, Invasor was going to run in the Dubai Cup, and understandably so. It is to say that racing fans should hope that Invasor is able to buck the odds and perform just as well as he did before he went to the Dubai Cup when he does return to action. If he doesn't, this season has the potential to be a huge disappointment when it comes to the sport here at the highest levels.

Imagine if Invasor struggles when he returns to the races. Who else in the handicap division would be capable of filling the void? Discreet Cat would be. He has the talent to do it, despite what his dismal seventh to Invasor in the Dubai Cup might suggest. But after being sick, Discreet Cat might not get back to the races until Saratoga at best, which means an abbreviated campaign, and a strong chance he won't stretch out in distance. You also know that with just one training misstep, it will be off to the breeding shed for Discreet Cat.

Lava Man has his own Dubai issues to recover from after getting trounced in the Dubai Duty Free. You also have to wonder if his people are tired of unsuccessfully attempting to get Lava Man to duplicate his stellar California form outside that state. Master Command hasn't been tested in three stakes wins this year, but as useful a horse as he is, no one has ever confused him for a legitimate Grade 1 animal. Surf Cat has loads of talent and is training great, but he has also been brittle, and it's hard to depend on a campaign of any length from him. Molengao is much improved, but he has also lost twice as many races as he has won. Magna Graduate, much like barn mate Master Command, is in good form, but is far removed from being a true Grade 1 horse.

The 3-year-old division might offer some late-season help. But given the way Triple Crown competitors Street Sense, Curlin, and Hard Spun have separated themselves from the rest of the 3-year-old pack, and in view of the toll that the rigors of the Triple Crown historically takes on its contestants, it's difficult to bank on this relief. Curlin, in particular, is an interesting case. Unless he is a complete throwback iron horse, with the Belmont Stakes scheduled to be his sixth start in 18 weeks, he is going to need a lengthy break somewhere along the way. Perhaps this is another reason why Street Sense's people seem to be looking for reasons not to run in the Belmont, as there will be lots prestigious races to run in down the road, and some will be easy spots against older horses.

Even if Invasor comes back strong, he can't be everywhere, and there will be some rich, big-name races this summer and fall that will go to horses who wouldn't be able to hit the board in them in other years. But we need a vintage Invasor when he returns for a variety of reasons. First, he will be able to provide an accurate barometer of how good this year's 3-year-old crop is when they finally do take on their elders, and most important, he will remind us what a real top-class racehorse looks like.