04/10/2008 11:00PM

Slamming the door on the Dubai myth


NEW YORK - The American posse that raided Nad Al Sheba two weeks ago has returned to the ranch with booty totaling $7,020,000, more than one-third of all the loot up for grabs on Dubai World Cup Night. Nine of the 15 U.S. runners who traveled to the United Arab Emirates had a profitable trip, bringing back enough cash to cause a minor blip in the gross national product.

Yet some will call into question the efficacy of sending horses halfway around the world to run for purses that, outside of the Breeders' Cup and the Kentucky Derby, dwarf those on offer in the United States. As such horses as Curlin, Benny the Bull, and Diamond Stripes - winners all in Dubai on March 29 - are entered in their first races back home, the naysayers will try and warn you off them at any cost. Traveling to and from Dubai takes too much out of a horse, the scuttlebutt goes. Don't believe it. Recent history has shown that many horses not only do well upon their return from Dubai, but also improve for the experience. Examples follow.

Invasor: Imported to Florida from Uruguay in January 2006, he was trained up to the 2006 UAE Derby by Kiaran McLaughlin at Florida's Palm Meadows training center. At Nad Al Sheba he suffered the only loss of his brilliant career when fourth to Discreet Cat, but returned to America and won the Pimlico Special less than two months later on his way to becoming Horse of the Year.

The Tin Man: After finishing second in the 2006 Dubai Duty Free for trainer Richard Mandella, he returned to America and ran off consecutive victories in the American Invitational Handicap, the Arlington Million, the Clement L. Hirsch, and the Shoemaker Mile.

Host: Eleventh in the 2007 Dubai Sheema Classic over 1 1/2 miles, which was too long for him, the Todd Pletcher-trained Chilean-bred ran well eight weeks later, winning the Elkwood Stakes at Monmouth Park. A year earlier, he wisely was given a 10-month rest by Pletcher after his fourth behind David Junior and The Tin Man in the Dubai Duty Free. On his first start back he won Gulfstream's Canadian Turf Handicap.

English Channel: Twelfth in the 2007 Dubai Duty Free for Pletcher, he reappeared two months later and finished second, beaten a head, in the Manhattan Handicap, after which he won the United Nations Handicap.

Lava Man: Dead last when deprived of Lasix and Bute in the 2007 Dubai Duty Free, he was back in action 10 weeks later, finishing second with a new supply of juice in the Charlie Whittingham Handicap. Three weeks later he won the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Thor's Echo: He finished second in the 2006 Dubai Golden Shaheen, then returned to the U.S. and won the Breeders' Cup Sprint and the De Francis Dash to be named champion American sprinter.

Shamoan: Fifth in the 2006 Godolphin Mile, he ran very much to that same form in his next start 10 weeks later when winning an optional claimer at Hollywood Park.

Island Fashion: Third in the Bayakoa Handicap prior to her seventh in the 2006 Godolphin Mile, she returned to California as good as ever when finishing a neck third in Del Mar's John C. Mabee Handicap on July 22.

Our New Recruit: The winner of the 2004 Dubai Sheema Classic was given some rest by trainer John Sadler upon his return and won first time back on Sept. 6 in Del Mar's Pirate Bounty Handicap, getting the six furlongs in 1:08.25.

Hard Buck: Second in the 2005 Dubai Sheema Classic, the Ken McPeek trainee returned on June 12 and ran second in Churchill's Opening Verse Handicap. Two starts later he made his third trans-oceanic journey of the year, yet ran better than ever before, finishing second in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot.

Pleasantly Perfect: Having won the 2004 Dubai World Cup for Mandella, he finished second in his American return in the San Diego Handicap, then won the Pacific Classic.

The problems facing American runners in Dubai have less to do with the length of the round-trip journey than with the ability of a trainer to select a horse for Dubai that travels well. Knowing how to ship a horse to Dubai and back is also a key element in keeping the runner at peak form upon its return. In the early days of the Dubai World Cup, many American trainers made mistakes on that score. With a body of knowledge and a wealth of experience behind them, fewer trainers are fouling up in recent years.

It is wise to keep a horse in Dubai for at least a week after his race there. Steve Asmussen may have erred with Curlin in bringing him back to America just four days after the World Cup. That said, Curlin is such an outstanding individual that a matter of a few days should not make any difference, as long as he is given a proper rest prior to his next start.

Notional, however, may be a different story. The 2007 Florida Derby runner-up returned from a 10 1/2-month absence to finish a promising third in an ungraded stakes at Santa Anita in his first start on turf. Why trainer Doug O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam would send a horse so unseasoned to run in an ultra-tough race like the Dubai Duty Free is incomprehensible. Having trailed home last of 16, beaten 28 1/2 lengths in the best race on the World Cup card, Notional would be a bad bet upon his return, even if he is re-equipped with Lasix and Bute.