03/29/2002 1:00AM

Reading Dubai card for glimpse of future


PHOENIX - has developed a Breeders' Cup-in-March feel. But beyond the pomp and pageantry, how far-reaching will the desert doings be?

World Cup

Just goes to show you that they all lose, even a horse as dominant as Sakhee. You could tell five furlongs out that Sakhee wasn't the Sakhee of last year. Frankie Dettori nudged on him to get involved, and while it worked, his move did not come with the powerful ease he used to reach contention in his previous big efforts.

Street Cry couldn't have scripted it any better. And you thought Harlan's Holiday got the dream trip of dream trips in the Florida Derby - this was even more perfect. Not only did the speed go fast and fall apart, just as Street Cry wanted, but the inside opened up for rider Jerry Bailey.

Street Cry looked great coming home. But once Sakhee didn't run like Sahkee, who else was there in the race? There were no big Americans like Lido Palace or Congaree; Western Pride is likely a Grade 2 horse at best. The big Japanese horse, Agnes Digital, was disappointing, too.

That's not to say that Agnes Digital's best or even Sakhee's best could have countered Street Cry's effort and perfect trip, but it would have been nice to find out.

Street Cry is headed for America for the summer. I always knew he had ability, and it's not a reach to say he could have been a major player in last year's Derby before an injury curtailed his season. There's more good news for him: When he does come to America, there's no Tiznow or Point Given or Albert the Great to face him. If ever the handicap division was ripe for the plucking, now's the time.

As for Sahkee, maybe he will return to the top of the pecking order when he goes back to turf. But for a horse who has been as good for as long as he has, you do wonder if he can get back to that dominant form.

Sheema Classic

This was the most impressive run of the evening. As good as Street Cry looked, I though Nayef looked even better. The margin wasn't as large, but the ease in which he drew clear over world-class foes in the 1 1/2-mile turf event showed he is better than ever at age 4 and gives every indication he may be ready to take up the mantle as this year's Fantastic Light.

Duty Free

How to gauge Val Royal's fifth-place effort? He appeared on his way to victory at the top of the lane in the 1 1/8-mile turf race, even putting his head in front, before he flattened out and faltered.

There could be a few mitigating circumstances: He was wide throughout, which may be fine going a mile, but may have taken too much fuel out of the tank for furlong nine. Also, they moved the rails for this race program - the inside was much the best since it was fresh, unspoiled ground. Val Royal was outside on the heavier ground. He has handled non-firm turf before, but he's obviously best when it's hard and firm. Of course, the runner-up, Noverre, actually rallied outside of Val Royal.

Val Royal may simply not be as effective going 1 1/8 miles as he is going a mile. Against a world-class field like this, Val Royal didn't have any margin for error.

The winner, Terre a Terre, is obviously top-shelf and figures to make noise wherever she goes.

Golden Shaheen

It wasn't really a surprise that the Americans dominated this; sprinting on dirt remains the American staple. What was surprising was how the race unfolded.

In recent months it had sounded as though Caller One's trainer, Jim Chapman, was more interested in beating crack filly Xtra Heat to the half-mile pole than to the wire. But that didn't seem the case in the race. Caller One is fast in the extreme, but he had shown before he can be just as effective pressing the pace. That's the tack he took here. Xtra Heat went to the front, and Caller One forced the issue without taking himself out of the picture. So when Xtra Heat failed to open up, Caller One, who obviously relishes a straight course, took advantage and gamely fought off a tough Echo Eddie.

The difference between Caller One and Xtra Heat may come down to a turn. On a straight course, where Caller One can maintain stride, he might be unbeatable. Xtra Heat, though, has always plunged the dagger on the turn. She has always seemed to take command from about the half-mile pole to the quarter pole. She had no such advantage on the straight, and was transformed from a blockbuster sprinter into just another fast horse.

Now the most crucial question: How do they come back? We've seen a number of horses go to Dubai and never quite return to the same top form. Val Royal, Caller One, and Xtra Heat won't be seen until late spring/ early summer, allowing them plenty of time to recover. It remains to be seen whether the trip to Dubai incurs a bigger cost than anticipated, or merely cranks them up for the summit in the fall.