03/24/2011 3:18PM

Sheema Classic looks open to U.S. invaders


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – One can typically start analyzing the $5 million Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night by crossing out any American horses entered in the race. In fact, not a single U.S.-based horse has won one of the 30 grass races run throughout the history of the World Cup, and only two horses have so much as finished second. But hold off on that pen, handicapper. The Americans have a fighting Sheema Classic chance this year.

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That’s partly because of the fact that, top to bottom, the 2011 Sheema Classic doesn’t stack up to some previous editions of the race. Another thing: Champ Pegasus and Bourbon Bay both are pretty good. Which of the two is better, that’s hard to say. Champ Pegasus beat Bourbon Bay by about one length in the Clement Hirsch last October at Hollywood Park, but Bourbon Bay turned the tables Jan. 17 with a 1 3/4-length win in the San Marcos. Last month, it was Champ Pegasus by a nose in San Luis Obispo.

Both horses appear to have shipped well to Dubai. Champ Pegasus has dapples bursting from his coat and has galloped with high energy during morning training.

“He’s in great shape,” trainer Dick Mandella said. “He’s done well all winter. When I got off the plane here in Dubai, I thought he looked well.”

Champ Pegasus has another thing going for him in the Sheema Classic, contested around two turns and over about 2,400 meters, close to 1 1/2 miles: His tactical speed. It’s unlikely Champ Pegasus’s connections want him making the lead, as he did before finishing second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, but he should stick close to the early pace, and that has been as asset this winter at Meydan.

The local turf course gets regular watering, but by many accounts – and personal observation – is quite firm and fast-playing, conditions that would suit Bourbon Bay. “The firmer the better for him,” said trainer Neil Drysdale, who has actually expressed concern this week that the turf is softer than his horse would prefer.

If one thinks Champ Pegasus has a decent chance, than Dangerous Midge must also be respected, for it was he who ran down Champ Pegasus to win the BC Turf. Skeptical Europeans pooh-pooh Dangerous Midge’s modest overseas form, but pretty much everything Dangerous Midge had done up to the Breeders’ Cup was preparation for this international phase of his career.

“This fellow has plenty of people who thought he got lucky in the Breeders’ Cup, but he can show that really is his form,” said trainer Brian Meehan.

Meehan has prepared Dangerous Midge for the Sheema Classic back home at England, but said winter conditions hadn’t compromised training.

“We haven’t had any problems getting him ready,” said Meehan.

The horse many of the Europeans prefer is Rewilding, who finished third to the top-class Workforce in the 2010 Epsom Derby, but hasn’t raced since Sept. 11. Rewilding has done his prep work for the Sheema at Godolphin’s desert training compound, and will be saddled by second-year trainer Mahmood al Zarooni.

The Sheema also includes Deem, who was a close fourth in the race last year; United Nations Handicap winner Chinchon; beaten 2010 Canadian International favorite Redwood; and Al Shemali, who won the 2010 Dubai Duty Free.