03/26/2015 2:36PM

On surface, U.S. trio look best in Golden Shaheen

Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club
Big Macher, at Meydan on Tuesday, could be in front early in the Golden Shaheen.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – In the days when Dubai World Cup cards were run on Nad al Sheba dirt, one thing was nearly certain: An American-based horse would win the Golden Shaheen, the six-furlong dirt stakes. The 10 editions of the race between 2000 and 2009 produced seven American-based winners, but even that doesn’t tell the tale. In four of those years, Americans swept the exacta. In 2003 and 2004, American-based horses ran 1-2-3-4. And in 2006, Americans took down the first five placings in the race.

Why? Simple. The best dirt sprinters in the world are American dirt sprinters, and now that Meydan Racecourse has switched from synthetic to dirt, there’s every reason to envision another era of American dominance starting with Saturday’s $2 million Golden Shaheen.

Surprisingly, only three American-based horses were entered in the race. One of them, Salutos Amigos, did not come out to train Wednesday, but trainer David Jacobson insisted the quiet day came by design, and Salutos Amigos was back on the track Thursday morning, albeit for light exercise.

:: DUBAI WORLD CUP: Get PPs, watch Saturday’s Meydan card live

Jacobson had gone back and forth this winter about whether to send Salutos Amigos for the race. Not trainer Bob Baffert, who circled it some time ago for his crack sprinter Secret Circle.

Baffert has trained a lot of top sprinters, and he has sent a lot of horses to Dubai, but never has he won the Golden Shaheen, a surprising trend Secret Circle could end Saturday.

“Right now, he’s at the top of the game, which you need to be for those races,” said Baffert, who did not travel to Dubai this year. “When he’s on his game, I think he’s the best sprinter in America.”

Perhaps, but Secret Circle has not won a race since he captured the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, taking five losses last year and finishing second in his lone start this year, the Palos Verdes. Baffert added blinkers for that start and said he made a mistake by telling his rider to contest the lead. Expect Secret Circle to stay close Saturday and make his move turning for home under Victor Espinoza.

Salutos Amigos comes from farther back, though Jacobson suggested he would race in the second flight Saturday. Salutos Amigos has been visually impressive, and his races have produced high Beyer Speed Figures, but he has beaten up on inferior competition, putting together a four-race win streak during winter racing in New York.

The third American, Big Macher, could end up on the lead and is not without a chance. At his best, he won the Grade 1 Bing Crosby last summer.

Two Hong Kong horses, Rich Tapestry and Lucky Nine, have the best chance to keep an American horse from the winner’s circle, but neither horse has impressed during morning exercise this week.

:: DRF Live: Get real-time updates and insights from DRF reporters and handicappers on Saturday

UAE Derby

It’s never easy judging talent in the small pool of 3-year-olds who winter in Dubai, but both Mubtaahij and Maftool have looked a cut above standard fare this season, and they meet for the third time in the $2 million UAE Derby.

The race is part of the Kentucky Derby qualifying system and awards 170 points (100-40-20-10) to the first four finishers. Derby points would mean nothing to a third solid contender, Sir Fever, a Uruguayan import who is a 4-year-old on Northern Hemisphere time.

Trainer Mike de Kock said Mubtaahij’s dirt ability has surprised him this winter. The colt stands a good chance of going to the Derby, de Kock said, should he finish first or second Saturday – and that seems likely. Mubtaahij beat Maftool in the Jan. 5 UAE 2000 Guineas Trial, but Maftool turned the tables a month later in the Guineas, outquicking Mubtaahij off the turn and into the homestretch before Mubtaahij came back at him late in the game. Maftool sat out the March 7 Al Bastikiya as Mubtaahij rolled to an easy win over Sir Fever, who races with blinkers added Saturday.

Al Quoz

About two lengths separated the first 12 – yes, 12 – finishers in the March 8 Meydan Sprint, the prep race for the $1 million Al Quoz, which looks on paper as competitive as the Meydan Sprint was in the running.

Peniaphobia, in from Hong Kong, did not take part in the Meydan Sprint, and perhaps he is a cut above the mass of horseflesh that dashed across the line three weeks ago. He breaks from the outside post in a 16-horse field, but that is not necessarily a bad thing in a straight-course five-furlong dash where everyone tries to escape from the inside.

The Hong Kong turf sprinters are usually a sharp bunch, and Peniaphobia has been as good as any of them this winter. He was fourth in his most recent start but narrowly beaten at a six-furlong trip perhaps slightly longer than his best.

The field includes the first two finishers from the 2014 Al Quoz, Amber Sky and Ahtoug, but while Ahtoug is in good-enough form and was second by a nose in the Meydan Sprint, Amber Sky, another Hong Kong horse, has run flat in his recent starts.

Two Americans are in the race: The Green Mask drew poorly in post 1, while Distinctiv Passion should set the pace from an outside draw.

Godolphin Mile

The Godolphin Mile offers a purse of $1 million, but the horses racing for the riches aren’t as strong as what Prayer for Relief has been chasing back home in the U.S.

Prayer for Relief finished fourth last out in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream, and the top two in that race, Constitution and Lea, would be odds-on in this field. And two starts ago, Prayer for Relief was beaten less than one length by Lea in the Hal’s Hope, a one-turn dirt race like the Godolphin Mile. Prayer for Relief was sent a few weeks ago into the local yard of trainer Mike de Kock, who has attempted to keep the horse on an American-style training regimen.

The likely favorite is a local, Tamarkuz, who emerged from relative obscurity to dominate the local dirt-mile ranks this winter. Tamarkuz has made cozy leads in his wins, but Bradester at least should keep him honest, and it remains to be seen if Tamarkuz can take serious pace pressure and still finish.

Dubai Gold Cup

Brown Panther could make no impression in the Breeders’ Cup turf last fall, his most recent start, but he far better suits the $1 million Dubai Gold Cup on Saturday and is solidly favored in overseas betting on the two-mile race.

Brown Panther stays the two-mile trip, and where the Santa Anita turns were too tight for a big horse like him, the large, sweeping bends at Meydan should be very much to his liking, trainer Tom Dascombe said. Brown Panther has looked the picture while galloping on turf this week but must deal with a slightly tricky outside draw Saturday.