03/23/2006 12:00AM

Ouija Board expands global influence

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Court Masterpiece (left), entered in the Godolphin Mile, and Ouija Board, in the Sheema Classic, exercise at Nad Al Sheba on Wednesday.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - At an age when many champion females have been retired, Ouija Board will race at 5 this year. Already a major stakes winner in Texas, Europe, and Hong Kong, Ouija Board will try to conquer the Middle East when she starts in Saturday's $5 million Sheema Classic at about 1 1/2 miles on turf at Nad Al Sheba racecourse.

The shares billing as the world's richest turf race with Saturday's $5 million Duty Free Stakes at about 1 1/8 miles.

Owned by Lord Derby and trained by Ed Dunlop, Ouija Board has won 7 of 13 starts and $3,163,126. In the United States, she is best known for winning the 2004 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Lone Star Park, the year she was honored with the Eclipse Award as the outstanding turf female. Last year, Ouija Board finished second to Intercontinental in the BC Filly and Mare Turf at Belmont Park.

Later, she finished fifth in the Japan Cup and then won the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase.

Dunlop, based in England, said that Ouija Board has maintained a steady weight of approximately 1,012 pounds since the fall.

"Her racing weight is identical to her last two races," Dunlop said. "She appears in every way to have trained on from 4 to 5. She hasn't had any hiccups. The signs are right, but it is a very good race."

The Sheema Classic has drawn a field of 14, with Ouija Board starting from post 8. Kieren Fallon, who was aboard in the Hong Kong Vase, has the mount.

Relaxed Gesture, the winner of the Grade 1 Canadian International last October, makes his first start of the year in the Sheema Classic. Trained in Florida by Christophe Clement, Relaxed Gesture, 5, was considered for the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap in February.

"I didn't think he was ready at the time," Clement said. "I think we're okay. He's fit enough."

Other contenders are Collier Hill, who won the 2005 Irish St. Leger; Heart's Cry, the runner-up in the Japan Cup last November; and Mustanfar, who was fourth in the Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap last month.

Mustanfar is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin.

"It's one of the toughest races on the program," McLaughlin said of the Sheema. "We're looking to get a piece of it."

Heart's Cry, a 5-year-old by Sunday Silence, was beaten a nose by Alkaased in the Japan Cup and returned to win a Group 1 in Japan in December. His presence is a concern to Dunlop.

"Heart's Cry has beaten us and he may beat us again," Dunlop said.

Duty Free: The Tin Man relishes distance

The Tin Man, the 8-year-old gelding trained by Richard Mandella, has made only four of his 23 starts at 1 1/8 miles. But when Mandella recalled that The Tin Man had won three of those races, a start in the seemed like a splendid idea.

"Why didn't I do this before?" Mandella said.

Rideen by Victor Espinoza, The Tin Man has won his last two starts, including the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita in January.

With 16 entrants, the Duty Free has the evening's largest field. Whilly, trained in California by Doug O'Neill, will be near the front. He was second in this race last year.

Host, the winner of the Shadwell Mile at Keeneland last October, drew post 7. A closer, Host will be ridden by John Velazquez, who was aboard the 6-year-old for a troubled eighth in the Grade 3 Appleton Handicap at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 11.

"The turf was firm at Gulfstream Park and I don't think he handled it," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He's an old pro. He doesn't run too many bad races."

A top threat from Europe is David Junior, a Florida-bred who won the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Newmarket, England, last October.

"He did well over the winter," trainer Brian Meehan said. "For me, personally, he's a horse they all have to beat."