03/03/2006 1:00AM

Outbid at sale, but looking good for World Cup


NEW YORK - It has been a busy week for Sheikh Mohammed. Beaten to the punch by his archrival John Magnier for the most valuable sale horse in history at Calder on Tuesday, he is also at the center of an international hornets' nest concerning the operation of six American ports by his country's government-owned Dubai Ports World.

As for losing out to Magnier, O'Byrne, Coolmore, and company on the $16 million Forestry-Magical Masquerade 2-year-old colt, Sheikh Mohammed may have, albeit unwittingly, bit off the larger end of the stick. Although the bay colt is a veritable picture postcard of a Thoroughbred, even Magnier's genius trainer Aidan O'Brien will have difficulty getting him to the point where he can recover Coolmore's prodigious outlay. Let's name him Lost in the Forest, as that may be where Magnier's money is headed.

While the Coolmore team can take pleasure in having outbid Sheikh Mohammed, they might have learned a lesson from the Sheikh's victory over them at the same Calder sale last year when they were outbid to the tune of $5.2 million for a 2-year-old Tale of the Cat colt who has yet to set foot on a racetrack.

Sheikh Mohammed, who assumed the throne in Dubai when his older brother Maktoum died in January, clearly plays on an international scale in both his sporting and business interests. According to the Financial Times, Dubai Ports World already operates ports in Asia, Europe, Australia, and Latin America. All this seems to be lost in the hullabaloo over whether an Arab company should have an interest in American ports.

On the positive side for Sheikh Mohammed and his Godolphin Racing operation this week is the emergence of Electrocutionist as the likely favorite for the Dubai World Cup. The seven-length victory of the Kentucky-bred son of Red Ransom in Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge at Nad Al Sheba on Thursday may have come at the expense of 13 horses who are no better than allowance types, but it also heralded the arrival of a major player in what we still mislabel in America as the handicap division. Suffice it to say that Electrocutionist is very likely to give the Grade 2 types from Santa Anita and Gulfstream who are contemplating a World Cup venture more than they bargained for.

In fact, American horses may have a tough time cracking the first two in this year's World Cup, as they will also be up against Japan's reigning dirt champion, Kane Hekili, who last November won the Grade 1 Japan Cup Dirt in Tokyo while finishing 17 lengths in front of Lava Man, the winner of last year's Hollywood Gold Cup and this year's Sunshine Millions Classic.

Electrocutionist and the $16 million Forestry colt are both examples of how the American racing industry continues to let the good ones get away. No one in the United States can outbid either Sheikh Mohammed or Coolmore for anything either of those two set their minds on, and it has been like this since the hysterical bidding wars of the 1980's between the Maktoums and the Sangster/O'Brien consortium, which then included a young John Magnier.

Electrocutionist himself, bought for an undisclosed price by Godolphin from Earle Mack last fall, is a product of the global breeding world that sees so many of the better Kentucky-breds whisked away to Europe. Bred by the Italian firm Compagnia Generale, he was sold privately to New Yorker Mack, currently American ambassador to Finland, who maintained the Italian flavor by turning him over to Valfredo Valiani in Milan. Equally adept on turf and dirt, Electrocutionist has run in Italy, England, Canada, and Dubai, but is unlikely to see an American racecourse wearing Godolphin blue until at least Oct. 28, when Churchill Downs will host the Breeders' Cup Classic.