02/14/2007 1:00AM

Premium Tap in desert debut


Premium Tap will make his first start for his new owners, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz and sons, in the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup, aka the King's Cup, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. Still trained by John Kimmel, the man who trained him to a pair of Grade 1 victories last fall, the 5-year-old Premium Tap will be making his first start going 1 1/2 miles as he prepares for a tilt at the 1 1/4-mile Dubai World Cup on March 31.

Purchased by the Saudi king after his victory in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs on Nov. 24, Premium Tap departed Gulfstream Park on Monday after having worked five furlongs in 59.80, breezing, last Friday morning, a move that prompted Kimmel to say: "I think he's right on target. It was a really good move and Kent [Desormeaux] was really impressed. He's dead-on ready."

The King's Cup will be Kimmel's first experience racing in the Middle East, but he is optimistic, even though Premium Tap has never been beyond 1 1/4 miles and has been that far just once, when third behind Invasor and Bernardini in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

"You never know if a horse is going to handle it when they go 1 1/2 miles," Kimmel said, "but good horses can do good things."

And Premium Tap is a good horse. His 7 1/4-length score in the Clark earned him a Beyer rating of 115 and added a second Grade 1 tally to his record, after the Woodward at Saratoga on Sept. 2. His 123 rating on the World Thoroughbred Racehorse Rankings of 2006 made him the third highest American older horse behind Invasor (129) and Lava Man (127).

Kimmel, who will arrive in Riyadh on Thursday, will give Desormeaux a leg up on Premium Tap in the King's Cup, in which the American hope will face a stern test from Forty Licks, the Argentine 3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year in 2006 who sports a sterling 9-for-12 lifetime record.

Forty Licks has not only won going 1 1/2 miles on dirt, landing the Argentine Derby on Nov. 12, he has also won four races at Riyadh's King Abdul Aziz Racecourse this winter, including the 1 1/2-mile Crown Prince Cup on Dec. 15 and a 1 1/4-mile allowance last out on Jan. 12.

He was ridden in three of his four Arabian outings by Michael Kinane, and the Irishman will be on board again Friday for trainer Ian Jory, the Englishman who left Southern California two years ago to train for Prince Mohammed bin Saud Al Kabeer and sons.

The King's Cup was reduced in distance from 2 1/8 miles to 1 1/2 miles this year to make it a somewhat more reasonable prep for the Dubai World Cup. It was won in 2003 by Grundlefoot, who subsequently finished fourth behind Moon Ballad in the Dubai World Cup.