03/24/2005 1:00AM

Pico Central carries on mission


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Jilted by Eclipse Award voters last winter, top sprinter Pico Central can give owner Gary Tanaka and trainer Paulo Lobo a measure of revenge with a victory in Saturday's $2 million Golden Shaheen at Nad Al Sheba racecourse.

The world's richest sprint, the Golden Shaheen is worth $1.2 million to the winner. If Pico Central, a heavy favorite, wins he would surpass in one race the $1,139,000 earned from a seven-race campaign last year that included wins in the San Carlos, Carter, and Metropolitan handicaps and the Vosburgh Stakes.

Despite those credentials, Pico Central lost the Eclipse Award voting to Speightstown, who won the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Lobo and Tanaka are hoping that Pico Central can become the fifth American-based horse to win the Golden Shaheen since the race went to a seven-figure purse in 2000.

"I think, for him, he deserves to win," Lobo said. "I was very disappointed and sad" not to win the Eclipse Award.

Pico Central is one of four American hopefuls in the Golden Shaheen, which has drawn a field 11 and is run over a six-furlong straightaway course.

The Golden Shaheen is one of worth $15 million on Saturday at Nad Al Sheba, topped by the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

Pico Central breaks from post 3 and is flanked to the inside in post 2 by Saratoga County, who won the Mr. Prospector and General George handicaps this year, and to the outside in post 4 by My Cousin Matt, who ran third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Lone Star Park last October. Bear Fan, the speedy mare who has won graded stakes in Maryland and New York, breaks from post 7.

A win by a non-U.S.-based starter would be a shock. National Icon, a winner of two sprints here this year, is considered the best of the others.

Pico Central will be reunited with Alex Solis, who was aboard for wins in the Carter and Metropolitan handicaps last spring. In those races, Pico Central was near the pace throughout. He is expected to show a similar style in the Golden Shaheen, even though Bear Fan, who worked three furlongs in 33.65 seconds here on Monday, might also go for the lead.

My Cousin Matt and Saratoga County will be closing. My Cousin Matt was schooled at the starting gate here this week in an effort to avoid the problems that led to seventh-place finishes in the Vernon Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park in December and the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita in January.

"He's had problems at the gate and that's been his downfall," trainer Jeff Mullins said. "If he'll be a gentleman and stand up at the gate, he has a good chance."

Saratoga County rallied from last to win the Grade 3 Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream Park in January. In the General George, he was second early and won by a nose. The Golden Shaheen marks his first start in a Grade 1 or Group 1 stakes since he ran fifth in the King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga last summer.

As to whether Saratoga County can catch the speedsters, his trainer, George Weaver, said: "If you need him, he can stalk. I think it's important to run your race. I don't think the straightaway will be a problem. It might help him."