03/14/2003 1:00AM

Sixteen U.S. horses expected for Dubai


The Dubai World Cup is on, no matter what the situation in Iraq, or so says Dubai World Cup Committee chairman Les Benton, who promises that a record 16 American-trained horses will run in six races at Nad Al Sheba on March 29.

"The Dubai World Cup will go ahead, there is absolutely no doubt," Benton said after a British report last weekend said that the $15.25-million evening of racing would be called off in the event of war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to U.S. citizens this week "to defer nonessential travel to the UAE. U.S. citizens in the UAE should consider departing."

All of this has given some American trainers third thoughts on top of second thoughts concerning Dubai. Darrell Vienna has rerouted Echo Eddie and Disturbingthepeace from the Dubai Golden Shaheen to the Takamatsunomiya Kinen at Chukyo in Japan. And Richard Mandella will send Redattore to Fair Grounds for the Explosive Bid instead of the Dubai Duty Free.

Benton's claim of 16 American horses in Dubai seems a little farfetched, but the U.S. representation will be a strong one, especially in the World Cup, the Golden Shaheen and the Godolphin Mile.

Godolphin, of course, will be pulling out all the stops, especially in the World Cup and the UAE Derby, in which it will prepare as many as five candidates for the Kentucky Derby. France, Japan, and South Africa will also be strongly represented.

Dubai World Cup

Medaglia d'Oro and Harlan's Holiday form a strong American tandem in the world's richest race, but they will be part of the deepest World Cup field in its eight-year history.

Godolphin will send out at least three of its big guns. They are British Group 2 winner Moon Ballad, the recent winner of the the Group 3 Maktoum Challenge Round 2; Grandera, a three-time Group 1 winner on turf who won the Group 2 Maktoum Challenge Round 3 last week; and, perhaps, Sulamani, the French Derby winner who would be making his dirt debut in the World Cup unless he is switched to the Dubai Sheema Classic.

Nayef, trained by Marcus Tregoning for Hamdan Al Maktoum, also runs, as does the fine French mare Aquarelliste, who prepped with an easy Group 3 score at Saint-Cloud last Saturday. Japan will send its Japan Cup Dirt winner Eagle Cafe.

Dubai Duty Free

With Redatorre opting for Fair Grounds, America will not have a runner in this 1 1/8-mile turf race. It is the Zimbabwean-bred, South African-trained mare Ipi Tombe that has set tongues wagging in Dubai. Owned since August by Team Valor, she has won both local preps for the Duty Free, recently slamming a high-class field of males in the Group 3 Jebel Hatta. Godolphin's Highdown and Sights on Gold will try her again, but Ipi Tombe looks like the night's best bet.

Dubai Golden Shaheen

Xtra Heat, third behind Caller One last year, Captain Squire, and Avanzado should have the opposition over a barrel in this straight six-furlong race. The locally trained pair of Conroy and Conflict as well as French invader Crystal Castle and Australian raider Belle du Jour will be in tough against the American speedsters.

Dubai Sheema Classic

There will be no Americans in this 1 1/2-mile turf race, in which Ange Gabriel will attempt to follow his victory in the Hong Kong Vase. Highest, Godolphin's recent Dubai City of Gold winner, will test him, as will Melbourne Cup winner Media Puzzle, if trainer Dermot Weld makes the decision to send him from Ireland.

UAE Derby

Inamorato will seek entry into the Kentucky Derby with a repeat of his Al Bastikiya victory in this 1 1/4-mile Group 2 race. He will be joined by Godolphin stablemates Western Diplomat, Bourbonnais, Al Saqaar, and Parhelion, and perhaps one or two others. Victory Moon, winner of the UAE 2000 Guineas and second in the Al Bastikiya, will go for Ipi Tombe's South African trainer Mike de Kock. There are two Americans in the field, the Bill Currin-trained Outta Here, and the Brazilian-bred Byzantium, trained by Elliott Walden.

Godolphin Mile

Like the Golden Shaheen, this race is tailor-made for American invaders. Warren Stute is sending Grey Memo to defend his title and he will be joined by fellow travelers Lusty Latin and Debonair Joe, as well as the dangerous Godolphin flagbearer Imtiyaz, recent winner of a course and distance prep for this

$1 million Group 2 race.