Updated on 09/16/2011 7:02AM

Oasis of world-class racing

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Ed Whitaker/Racing Post
Sakhee, (left) at Al Quoz training track Wednesday morning, is the big star of Saturday's Dubai World Cup, the world's richest race at $6 million. Bookmakers list him at 2-5.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - For most horsemen, the tiny Persian Gulf state of Dubai is far from home. It is also the place to be.

The world's richest race will be run here Saturday night in the Arabian desert, with $6 million at stake in the Dubai World Cup and $9 million on the line in five other Thoroughbred races at Nad Al Sheba racetrack.

"If they want to be internationally recognized, they have to come onto the world's stage and be part of it," Dubai World Cup chairman Les Benton said. "We've got the best race meeting in the world."

They have the best in March. The Dubai World Cup has grown into the Breeders' Cup of the spring, offering $2 million more in purses than the Breeders' Cup. While the World Cup program does not yet rival the championship races of autumn, there is no shortage of quality Saturday.

Sakhee, who is trying to solidify his claim as the best horse in the world, starts favored in the Dubai World Cup at 1 1/4 miles. Xtra Heat and Caller One, two of the fastest sprinters in America, go six furlongs in the $2 million Golden Shaheen. Val Royal, winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile, is favored to win the $2 million Dubai Duty Free at about 1 1/8 miles on turf. There are three other races with international flavor.

More than 80 Thoroughbreds from 15 countries race in four Group 1's and two Group 2's in a one-night festival that carries a distinct European flavor. Many of the runners eventually will campaign in England, where the Godolphin stable, owned by Dubai's ruling Maktoum family, wins many of the top prizes each year.

A crowd of 50,000 is expected Saturday night at Nad Al Sheba; the global television reach is more than one billion. The forecast called for temperatures to peak in the low 80's Saturday afternoon, but it could be as much as 10 degrees cooler by the evening post time.

Wagering is not allowed in Dubai, but the World Cup will be offered at most tracks in the United States. If he wins, Sakhee will be one of the lowest-odds winners in the seven-year history of the race. English bookmakers list him at 2-5.

Winner of the Arc de Triomphe and runner-up by a nose in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Sakhee has pointed for the Dubai World Cup since returning to Dubai last fall. While the 5-year-old's workout on Wednesday morning was ordinary, his 2001 form makes him a standout. Frankie Dettori rides Sakhee, who has won 8 of 12 and earned $4.2 million.

The World Cup pacesetter will be Western Pride, who would have been the only American-owned starter, but was purchased by a Saudi prince earlier in the week. Pace handicappers making a case for Western Pride have underestimated the Godolphin factor. Godolphin starts four runners, and speculation is either Best of the Bests, State Shinto, or Street Cry will be employed as sacrificial rabbit to ensure pace for Sakhee.

The strategy could benefit Japanese star Agnes Digital. A winner of five straight races, Agnes Digital is sure to produce a solid finish through Nad Al Sheba's three-furlong homestretch. Saudi-based Crimson Quest also has won five straight against lesser competition, and may take down a share.

A race festival would not be truly international without U.S. representation, and opinion in Dubai is the sprint race is a foregone conclusion. No fewer than five American runners are entered in the Golden Shaheen, led by the brilliant filly Xtra Heat and last year's winner, Caller One. Others are Men's Exclusive, a 9-year-old who is acting much younger; Fair Grounds-based Bonapaw; and a potential upsetter - the fast California-bred Echo Eddie.

Wesley Ward trains Men's Exclusive, but assistant Blake Heap has supervised the gelding's preparation in Dubai, where he finished second last year. "When we came over last year we didn't really know what we were doing," Heap admitted. Men's Exclusive overcame shoeing problems, feed problems, dehydration, and a bleeding episode to finish second. This year, Heap said "everything seems to be going our way."

That includes the likely pace. Said Heap: "They're all speed horses - we have to hope they hook up hard - and then we'll come running." Echo Eddie has improved daily leading to the Golden Shaheen. Trained by Darrell Vienna, he is being handled in Dubai by Vienna's assistant Scott Chaney. Echo Eddie is versatile, he can finish, and his American speed figures put him in the thick of it. English bookmakers list him at a tempting 25-1.

Dubai Duty Free: Good omens

"Insha Allah." It did not take Val Royal's trainer Julio Canani long to adopt the frequently used Arabic expression. It means "God willing," and Canani is getting all the right signs that his Breeders' Cup Mile winner Val Royal is the right horse for the $2 million Dubai Duty Free. When Canani won the BC Mile with Silic, he had saddlecloth 12. Val Royal wore 12 when he won the BC Mile last year. Same number for the Duty Free - 12.

"I think it's an omen, I believe in things like that," Canani said, "Insha Allah." Val Royal also has supporting form. He has won 7 of 11, had an ideal prep early this month at Santa Anita, and has trained well in Dubai. Val Royal caught an unexpected break when the horse Canani feared most - Nayef - elected to run instead in the Sheema Classic.

Val Royal's rivals include Del Mar Show, trained by Bill Mott. It was Mott-trained Cigar who helped put the Dubai World Cup on the map in 1996, when he won the inaugural running of the Dubai World Cup. Mott returns with a horse of lesser class, but one that is fresh and dangerous.

Jim and Tonic, billed as the best advertisement for international racing, won the Duty Free last year and returns at age 8. The past year, Jim and Tonic has raced in the UAE, Singapore, France, and Hong Kong. Other Duty Free contenders include Godolphin's Noverre and No Excuse Needed.

UAE Derby: Godolphin vs. 'Reality'

Is there a Kentucky Derby horse stabled in Dubai? Probably not. Six Godolphin runners contest the $2 million UAE Derby at a mile and a quarter, including likely favorite Essence of Dubai. However, the most likely winner of the 1 1/4-mile race is South American import Second Reality.

A winner 8 of 11 in Argentina, including two Group 1 races vs. older, Second Reality has been stabled with trainer Jerry Barton in Saudi Arabia since Jan. 1. "If he's the type horse he's shown us, I don't think they can beat him," Barton said. "Put it this way - if I was running against him, I'd say how can you beat this horse?"

Godolphin's 3-year-olds have not impressed on form, and the most attractive colt physically is still a maiden. Ibn Al Haitham's seasonal debut was delayed because of a skin condition, so his first start of the year comes against high-strung Norfolk Stakes winner Essence of Dubai and Second Reality.

* Three American runners - Peeping Tom, Grey Memo, and Blade Prospector contest the $1 million Godolphin Mile on dirt. In the $2 million Sheema Classic, Group 1 winners Nayef and Toubougg figure to dominate the mile and a half turf race.