03/28/2008 11:00PM

Poised for worldwide stardom

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Dubai Racing Club
Curlin already has a victory at Nad Al Sheba, having an easy time of it in his World Cup prep.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - To catch a glimpse of Street Sense, Hard Spun, or Any Given Saturday, three elite 3-year-olds of 2007, take a trip to Darley Stud in Lexington, Ky. The trio began stallion careers there this winter, whisked away from the races in their youth.

You can find the best 3-year-old of 2007 out on the track.

While the three Casanovas awaited visits from mares, the 4-year-old Curlin paid a visit to the starting gate at Nad Al Sheba racetrack on Thursday morning. Saturday night, he will line up in post 12 for the world's richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup, and a chance to come closer to greatness.

Curlin was more than the best 3-year-old in North America last year: He was the best horse, period. Should he win the World Cup, return home, and keep winning, Curlin can become the richest racehorse in history. His bankroll already stands at $5.2 million, and first place in the World Cup is worth $3.6 million. Cigar is the leading money winner among North American-based horses with a bankroll of about $10 million.

It's because Curlin could accomplish such things that Jess Jackson, his majority owner, kept Curlin in training. He bought out two partners to control 80 percent of this magnificent animal and bucked recent tradition, turning down riches waiting at stud to bring a top 3-year-old back for more racing.

"I've seen all the great ones in my life," Jackson, 78, said Wednesday night. "I saw Seabiscuit when I was 8 years old. This horse reminds me of a champion. That's what we saw in the beginning."

On paper, the only thing that can beat Curlin on Saturday is Curlin himself. Rated the top dirt horse in the world, Curlin will meet no animal near his established quality, though 12 were entered against him.

The World Cup, contested at 2,000 meters (about 1 1/4 miles), is the last of seven races Saturday night. The card's opener is for Arabians, followed by three dirt races, and two awesome grass stakes - the $5 million Duty Free and the $5 million Sheema Classic. Post time for the first Thoroughbred race is 9:40 a.m. Eastern in the U.S. The World Cup is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcast on tape delay at 2:30 on ABC. The races can be seen live on HorseRacing TV and TVG and on many online wagering platforms and will be streamed in real time on espn360.com. U.S. bettors can play the World Cup online or at simulcasting facilities.

Few will be betting against Curlin, who has lost only 3 of 10 starts. He rides a three-race winning streak into the World Cup, having scored a narrow victory over Lawyer Ron in the Jockey Club Gold Cup before waxing a strong field in the Breeders' Cup Classic. It was a tremendous finish to a long season that began Feb. 3 and weaved through all three legs of the Triple Crown: a troubled third in the Kentucky Derby, a rousing win in the Preakness, a bitter loss in the Belmont.

In early August, Curlin had his flattest race last year, finishing a well-beaten third to Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun in the Haskell Invitational.

"I've heard some old-timers call that the Belmont blues," assistant trainer Scott Blasi said of Curlin's post-Triple Crown comeback.

Blasi's boss, Steve Asmussen, has eschewed tradition this winter, bringing Curlin six weeks ago to Nad Al Sheba, where he easily won a prep race on Feb. 28 - a paid workout. Curlin has performed better his second time over a given racetrack, and Asmussen believes allowing Curlin to fully acclimate in Dubai will lessen the stress of his trip. It looks that way so far. Curlin has hit every note in his training here, and he comes to his race without evident flaws.

He and regular rider Robby Albarado could be hung wide from post 12 in the early going, but that may not matter. Another American horse, Well Armed, drew post 2, and figures to use his speed to make the lead. Great Hunter and the Japanese horse Vermilion, fourth in the 2007 World Cup, could be close, but Curlin will not be far behind the leaders if the pace is moderate.

Jalil, one of two Godolphin entries, has won three times this winter in Dubai, and is rated an improving 4-year-old.

"Jalil has come from his last race very well," trainer Saeed bin Suroor said.

Not so for the Brazilian import Happy Boy, purchased by Godolphin after a nine-length win in the first leg of the Maktoum Challenge here. Happy Boy was hard-pressed to make the World Cup after battling what his connections termed a leg infection after his Jan. 17 win.

Premium Tap came closest to Invasor in last year's World Cup but appeared to lose his form earlier this year in Saudi Arabia. The Donn Handicap runner-up, A. P. Arrow, is in career-best form at age 6 but must overcome post 13. Asiatic Boy looked like any kind of horse winning the UAE Derby on the World Cup card last year, but after a strong sprint win in January, he suffered a surprising defeat in his World Cup prep.

"He's a lot sharper going into this run," trainer Mike de Kock said. "He's lightened up a few kilos, which he needed to do."

All things being equal, Curlin will not let down his many fans. He should make his mark on the international scene and come home looking for more glory.

"The public needs heroes for racing to be what it once was," Jackson said. "The stars have to endure."