03/22/2005 1:00AM

Notion of Derby in the desert

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Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins
Yard-Arm (right) trains Monday for the World Cup with stablemate Greys Inn, bound for the Sheema Classic.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Michael de Kock, the champion trainer of South Africa who campaigned Horse Chestnut in Florida in 2000, is preparing for another assault on the United States later this year.

De Kock has contacted New York Racing Association officials about racing a small stable at Saratoga this summer. Pending results on Saturday in the $2 million UAE Derby, de Kock could have a runner in the United States as soon as the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

Last year, de Kock said he wanted to give American racing another try following the success of Horse Chestnut. But he wasn't sure he had the right horses and the logistics of operating in South Africa and the U.S. were difficult to overcome.

De Kock, who trains more than 100 horses, thinks he can make it work this year.

"I think I've got six to 10 horses that would be competitive there," he said. "That sort of convinced me. These are horses that can pay their way."

Saturday at Nad Al Sheba racecourse, de Kock has 10 starters spread through five of the six Thoroughbred races on the Dubai World Cup program. Those horses will be the core of his American team.

In the UAE Derby over 1 1/8 miles, de Kock starts the Italian stakes winner Becrux and the Argentine-bred South African stakes winner Candidato Roy.

For Becrux, owned by Scuderia Siba, the American-based Team Valor syndicate, and Gary Barber of California, the UAE Derby could be a springboard to the Kentucky Derby. A winner of 5 of 7 starts, Becrux desperately needs a win or placing in the UAE Derby to earn the graded (or group) stakes money he would need if the Kentucky Derby field is oversubscribed.

"We'll make arrangements if he does well," de Kock said. "I think he needs to run in the first three to qualify" for the Kentucky Derby.

De Kock admits that Becrux has been a puzzle on dirt. In two starts on dirt at Nad Al Sheba, Becrux finished 13th in the UAE 2000 Guineas over a mile on Feb. 10 and easily won an allowance race over 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 25.

"The first race was a disappointing run and left me scratching my head," de Kock said. "As a horseman, I think they don't always perform to their best the first time they switch surfaces. I felt he needed another chance, and he redeemed himself."

De Kock has leading candidates in several other races on Saturday.

In the $6 million Dubai World Cup, de Kock starts Yard-Arm, a four-time Group 1 winner in South Africa last year. Yard-Arm will be trying to upset an American team led by Roses in May, the runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Classic last October.

In the $2 million Sheema Classic over 1 1/2 miles on turf, de Kock starts the highly regarded Greys Inn, the winner of the 2004 South African Derby. De Kock has four starters in the $2 million Dubai Duty Free, including the defending champion, Right Approach. He has two runners in the $1 million Godolphin Mile - Emerald Beauty and Grand Emporium.

De Kock, 41, won the 2000 Broward Handicap at Gulfstream Park with Horse Chestnut, the winner of the South African Triple Crown and that country's Horse of the Year.

Now at stud in Kentucky, Horse Chestnut was a candidate for the 2000 Donn Handicap before being retired because of injury.

In recent years, de Kock's reputation has grown through his success in Dubai.

On the undercard of the 2003 Dubai World Cup, de Kock won the Dubai Duty Free with Ipi Tombe and the UAE Derby with Victory Moon.

Last year on the Dubai World Cup program, he won the UAE Derby with Lundy's Liability, the Dubai Duty Free with Right Approach, and finished third in the Dubai World Cup with Victory Moon. (Lundy's Liability is a probable starter for Saturday's Dubai World Cup, but is now trained by Bobby Frankel in California.)

Of his current horses, de Kock feels that Yard-Arm, Emerald Beauty, Grand Emporium, Greys Inn, and Right Approach can be competitive in the United States. He is even entertaining the Arlington Million for Right Approach, a winner of 4 of 13 starts.

But as excited as de Kock is about bringing his best horses to America, he says coming to this country is not easy.

"The New York racing authorities have been extremely helpful," de Kock said. "But traveling in and out of America is a nightmare. It's a matter of getting visas."

Tough posts for two Americans

Post positions were drawn Tuesday afternoon for the five Thoroughbred races on the Dubai World Cup undercard.

The American hopefuls Tsigane and Whilly have drawn tough posts in their respective races.

Tsigane, the lone American representative in the Godolphin Mile, drew the rail in a field of 12. He will be ridden for the first time by Patrick Valenzuela, who has three other mounts on the card, including Lundy's Liability in the Dubai World Cup.

Valenzuela, known as an excellent gate rider, may need to hustle Tsigane away from the gate to avoid traffic.

Whilly, the winner of two recent turf stakes at Santa Anita, drew post 12 of 14 in the Dubai Duty Free over about 1 1/8 miles on turf. The wide draw will force jockey Felipe Martinez to use some of Whilly's speed to gain position.

The competition includes the Australian champion Elvstroem; Right Approach, who dead-heated for first in the 2004 Duty Free; and Alexander Goldrun, a 4-year-old filly who won the $2.3 million Hong Kong Cup in December.

Whilly lost the shoe on his left front foot during a gallop on Tuesday, but Leandro Mora, an assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill, said the foot sustained no damage.

"Sometimes, when they switch leads they tap it," he said. "It came off cleanly."

Bear Fan has swift work

In the $2 million Golden Shaheen over about six furlongs, the focus will be on the inside half of the gate. The American challengers Saratoga County, Pico Central, and My Cousin Matt have drawn the second through fourth post positions, while the speedy Bear Fan has drawn post 7.

Bear Fan, 6, the lone mare in the race, worked about three furlongs in 33.65 under the lights Monday evening.

"I didn't care to see her go that fast," said Blake Heap, assistant to trainer Wesley Ward. "She was awful willing, so that's good."

Pico Central, a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding sprinter of 2004, is considered a strong favorite in the Golden Shaheen, which is run on a straightaway and has attracted 11 entrants.

McPeek trying again

Trainer Kenneth McPeek finished second in the 2004 Sheema Classic with Hard Buck. This year, he is back with Prince Arch, winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park BC Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf on March 6.

Prince Arch, to be ridden by Brice Blanc, has drawn post 5 in a stacked field of 11. The top candidates include Powerscourt, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Turf last October; Cherry Mix, the runner-up in the 2004 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe; Greys Inn, trained by de Kock; and Phoenix Reach, the winner of the Canadian International in 2003.

McPeek starts Durban Thunder in the $2 million UAE Derby. The mount of John Velazquez, Durban Thunder drew post 8. Becrux drew post 3, while Shamardal, the European champion 2-year-old male of 2004, starts from post 11. Marenostrum, trained by Bobby Frankel, drew post 2 in the field of 12.