01/30/2007 12:00AM

Oracle West may step up in prep


Oracle West can parlay his fondness for the Nad Al Sheba turf course into victory Thursday night in the Group 3, $200,000 Al Rashidiya, the first of three local stepping-stones to the $5 million Dubai Duty Free on March 31.

Back with South African ace Mike de Kock after a brief period with trainer John Hammond in France, where he was a head second last time on Nov. 18 in the listed Grand Prix de Marseille, Oracle West won his first three starts on the Nad Al Sheba turf last winter, two at the 1 1/4-mile handicap level before taking the Group 3 Dubai City of Gold going 1 1/2 miles. The Al Rashidiya's nine furlongs shapes up as a test of speed for the South African-bred 5-year-old, but with Weichong Marwing, who has ridden him in four of his seven career victories, at the controls, Oracle West is capable of springing a mild surprise.

Another course specialist, Touch of Land, looms large in the favorite's role. Trained in France by Henri-Alex Pantall, the 7-year-old Touch of Land finished sixth Sept. 30 in his bid for a third consecutive win in Longchamp's Prix Dollar. The winner of four Group 2 races, including last winter's Jebel Hatta over the Al Rashidiya course and distance, Touch of Land will have regular rider Christophe Lemaire in the saddle, but he is spotting the rest of the field four pounds.

Ace, runner-up to Shirocco in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Turf but winless since August 2004, makes his third start for Sateesh Seemar after a pair of subpar efforts going shorter on the Abu Dhabi turf. More dangerous are 2000 Guineas third Olympian Odyssey and Newmarket's four-length Cambridgeshire Handicap winner Formal Decree, who also won a 1 1/8-mile Nad Al Sheba handicap on Jan. 18.