03/21/2005 12:00AM

Pico Central's feet receiving careful attention

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Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing
Pico Central loosens up for the $2 million Golden Shaheen Sprint.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Temporarily based halfway around the world, trainer Paulo Lobo is taking no chances while preparing Pico Central for Saturday's $2 million Golden Shaheen Sprint at Nad Al Sheba racecourse.

A finalist for the Eclipse Award for champion sprinter of 2004, Pico Central suffered a bruised right front foot earlier this year while training in California. The injury prevented Pico Central from having a prep race in February for the Golden Shaheen, the world's richest sprint and a highlight of the undercard of the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

To ensure that Pico Central's feet remain in top condition, Lobo has asked California farrier Robert Treasure to travel to Dubai later this week to inspect them. Lobo insists that Treasure's appearance Thursday is only precautionary.

"Everything is perfect," Lobo said. "We always have to watch his feet very closely."

Run on a straightaway at about six furlongs, the Golden Shaheen is one of six Thoroughbred races worth at least $1 million on the World Cup card. There are American interests in each race, with four each in the Golden Shaheen and Dubai World Cup. American-based runners have won four of the five runnings of the sprint since the race went to a seven-figure purse in 2000.

This year's team features Bear Fan, a 6-year-old mare who is facing males for the first time; My Cousin Matt, who was third in the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Lone Star Park last October; and Saratoga County, who has won three straight starts.

Pico Central had a workout and a blood test Saturday, and both went well, Lobo said.

Pico Central, who will be ridden by Alex Solis, worked 1,000 meters, or about five furlongs, in 1:01.60.

The Golden Shaheen will be Pico Central's first start since a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct in November. Last year, Pico Central won four stakes: the San Carlos, Carter, and Metropolitan handicaps, and the Vosburgh Stakes.

Pico Central is a front-runner, while My Cousin Matt is a closer. My Cousin Matt was fifth in the 2003 Golden Shaheen while trained by Scott Lake. Now trained by Jeff Mullins, My Cousin Matt worked a half-mile in approximately 46.40 seconds on the straightaway Monday.

The Golden Shaheen will be My Cousin Matt's first start since a troubled seventh in the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita on Jan. 29.

Saratoga County was schooled at the gate Sunday. Trained by George Weaver, Saratoga County won the Grade 2 General George Stakes at seven furlongs at Laurel in his last start, on Feb. 21.

Bear Fan worked under the lights Monday evening, but track officials did not provide a time. The mare routinely records bullet workouts.

Shamardal has Derby aspirations

While American runners appear poised to dominate the Golden Shaheen and World Cup, the other stakes will be more fiercely contested.

The $2 million UAE Derby will have implications on the Kentucky Derby.

Shamardal, the European champion 2-year-old who was unbeaten in three starts in England last year, will make his 3-year-old debut in the race, which is run at about 1 1/8 miles. Becrux, a stakes winner in Italy last year, is also a potential Kentucky Derby starter. Both would need a win or a placing to remain on course for the Kentucky Derby on May 7.

The UAE Derby is open to horses that are 3-year-olds in the Southern Hemisphere, but considered 4-year-olds in the Northern Hemisphere. Six of the 12 nominated horses were bred in the Southern Hemisphere, including two trained by Americans - Durban Thunder (Kenneth McPeek) and Marenostrum (Bobby Frankel).

Durban Thunder, unbeaten in three starts, including a Group 1 win in Brazil last July, has never started for McPeek.

Marenostrum was third in an allowance race at Santa Anita on March 5, his debut for Frankel.

Sheema pits two powerhouses

The $2 million Sheema Classic at about 1 1/2 miles on turf marks a showdown between the world's two most prominent racing stables - the Maktoum family's Godolphin Racing, from the host country, and the Coolmore operation from Ireland.

Irish trainer Aidan O'Brien will start Powerscourt, who will be O'Brien's first starter in Dubai. Owned by Susan Magnier, the wife of Coolmore owner John Magnier, Powerscourt finished first in the Arlington Million last August but was disqualified and placed fourth for causing interference. He was later third in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Lone Star Park.

Godolphin's team is led by Cherry Mix, second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris in October.

The American starter is the four-time stakes winner Prince Arch, who won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Breeders' Cup Handicap at about 1 3/8 miles on turf on March 6.

Trained by McPeek, Prince Arch worked 800 meters on turf, or about a half-mile, on Sunday in 50.18 seconds.

Whilly looking for an upset

Whilly, the winner of two stakes at Santa Anita during the winter, is considered an outsider in the $2 million Dubai Duty Free at about 1 1/8 miles on turf.

Trained by Doug O'Neill, Whilly won the minor Sir Beaufort Stakes at a mile on turf on Dec. 26 and returned to win the Grade 2 San Marcos Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on turf on Jan. 22.

California jockey Felipe Martinez will ride Whilly. O'Neill's assistant, Leandro Mora, has traveled to Dubai. He said Whilly, 4, has handled the trip well.

Mora said Whilly has responded well to the journey. Saturday, Whilly worked five furlongs in 1:01.60, with a final half-mile in 48.60 seconds, Mora said.

The top candidates for the Duty Free include the Australian champion Elvstroem and defending champion Right Approach.

Tsigane returns in Godolphin Mile

Tsigane, seventh in the Grade 1 Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park in his last start Nov. 27, is the lone American representative in the $1 million Godolphin Mile on dirt.

Trained by Julio Canani for Prestonwood Farm, Tsigane worked 1,000 meters in 1:01 on Sunday.

Tsigane was sixth in the 2004 Golden Shaheen.

The Godolphin Mile has 12 probable starters, including 2005 local stakes winners Burnt Ember, Cherry Pickings, and Grand Emporium; and the French stakes winner Keltos.