03/29/2007 11:00PM

Sheema Classic: 15 horses and no standout


The Sheema Classic, run at about 1 1/2 miles on turf, drew a field of 15 deep enough to boggle the brain. Eight horses have won a Group 1 race somewhere in the world; five others have placed in one. And one of the two not in either category is Quijano, who has won 10 in a row, including three straight over the Nad Al Sheba course.

Collier Hill, winner of the Canadian International at Woodbine and the Hong Kong Vase last year, was scratched from the race on Friday, leaving a field of 14.

Red Rocks upset the BC Turf and ended his 3-year-old season on a roll. Sir Percy, champion 2-year-old in England two years ago, won the Epsom Derby over 17 rivals last June 3, but his lone start since then was a dud, a seventh-place finish in the Oct. 14 Champion Stakes.

"On the pedigree, you always thought he'd be a good [older horse]," trainer Marcus Tregoning said. "It's whether he can improve a bit now, and he'd have to."

Quijano, German-bred, -owned, and -trained, lost his debut two years ago, but after a long layoff has been unbeatable against softer competition than he meets Saturday. But the plan all winter was to try the Sheema Classic if Quijano cleared the right hurdles, and no one in Dubai has beaten him yet.

"He had to improve, and he did it, but this is the hardest race he's had in his life," said Gisela Schiergen, the wife and assistant to Quijano's trainer Peter Schiergen.

Vengeance of Rain won the prestigious Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup by a nose in his last start, but never has traveled before now. Pop Rocks, a Japanese star, was second of 23 and beaten only a nose last fall in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup. And there are three Americans in the race: the California horse Obrigado, and two from trainer Todd Pletcher, Host and the excellent racemare Honey Ryder.