03/28/2007 11:00PM

Odds dictate betting Invasor

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NEW YORK - So whodoyalike in the seventh at Nad Al Sheba Saturday?

The showdown between Invasor and Discreet Cat in the $6 million Dubai World Cup is not only a race between between the planet's two best dirt horses, but also a classic racetrack showdown between achievement and brilliance. Whether your gut has you rooting for Invasor or Discreet Cat may simply reflect what type of really good horse you prefer. Do your tastes run more to Cigar and his 16 consecutive victories or to Ghostzapper's shorter string of more dazzling efforts?

Achievement and brilliance are running neck and neck with the British bookmakers taking action on the race. At Coral and Victor Chandler, Invasor is the 11-10 favorite with Discreet Cat 3-2, while Ladbroke's and William Hill have them even closer at 5-4 and 11-8.

Are the prices right? It will be fascinating to see how Americans vote at the parimutuel polls and it will be surprising if the two are that close together in the odds at post time. By nearly every classical standard of American handicapping, Invasor should be the heavy favorite.

Invasor, 10 for 11, has won a Triple Crown in Uruguay, five Grade 1 races at five different American tracks, and is the reigning Horse of the Year. He has four victories, including the Breeders' Cup Classic, at 1 1/4 miles or longer, and had a perfect recent prep winning the Donn Handicap eight weeks ago. Discreet Cat is 6 for 6 with a single Grade 1 triumph, in a one-mile race. He has never run the World Cup's 10-furlong distance and hasn't raced since Nov. 25.

Invasor appears to have experience, age, distance, fitness, and recency on his side. So why isn't he 3-5 with Discreet Cat more like 5-2? That's where the brilliance factor comes in.

For all his accomplishments, Invasor is simply not a "wow" kind of horse and for the most part has failed to capture the public imagination. More workmanlike than flashy, he goes out and does what he has to, sometimes by unimpressive margins and usually without dazzling students of time. Respect for him has grown slowly and almost grudgingly.

Discreet Cat is the polar opposite, a horse who has dazzled the eye and the clock every time he has been to the races. From his dazzling Saratoga debut 19 months ago to his otherworldly Cigar Mile last Nov. 25, where he contested blazing fractions and still tied Easy Goer's 1989 track record for a mile, every race has been an eye-popping tour de force. His devoted followers believe he could be The One, the superhorse who can do anything at any distance under any circumstances.

Maybe he can, but 11-8 or 3-2 seems like an awfully short price to take on that leap of faith, especially off a 18-week layoff and at a longer distance than he has ever tried. Racing and handicapping have changed drastically since the days when Tom Ainslie advised handicappers to eliminate all horses with more than a 21-day layoff, but winning a 10-furlong race after 126 days on the sidelines is still a mighty feat.

Invasor broke the mold by winning the Classic off a 13-week layoff last fall, but such absences seem less important for stretch-runners who are proven at the distance than for front-runners stretching their speed into new territory. Grass horses seem to win off similar layoffs far more often than dirt runners. The gap Discreet Cat is trying to bridge is equivalent to a horse running in the Kentucky Derby without having raced since New Year's Eve. The difference is that while a Derby usually has a field of 20 and several hopeless speedballs to ensure an honest pace, there's a scenario in which Discreet Cat could get very loose early in the seven-horse World Cup.

And wait, hasn't Discreet Cat already soundly whipped Invasor? Technically yes, but putting any stock in Invasor's lone career defeat, when he was a distant fourth to Discreet Cat in the UAE Derby a year ago, seems literal-minded to the point of absurdity. Invasor was the one coming in off a 21-week layoff that time, was not seriously prepared for the race, and simply did not fire anything close to his best shot. He was beaten that day not only by Discreet Cat but also by a pair of plodders named Testimony and Flamme de Passion, whose subsequent form has certified them as mediocrities.

Both Discreet Cat and Invasor are better horses now than they were then, but this time Invasor appears to have all the edges. If they're really going to be the same price, Invasor looks like the much better bet.