03/27/2007 11:00PM

Top prize out of U.S. reach

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ARCADIA, Calif. - In case no one had noticed, Saturday's $6 million Dubai World Cup, the richest horse race on planet Earth, will feature exactly zero representation of American Thoroughbred ownership.

This follows only four months after the $4.1 million Japan Cup, the world's richest grass race run outside of Dubai, which was likewise bereft of any participation by an American owner.

Talk about a trade imbalance.

A case can be made that the Japan Cup, at 2,400 meters on the grass, is not exactly America's cup of green tea. The U.S. develops very few top-quality 12-furlong horses these days (Kitten's Joy and Better Talk Now being obvious exceptions), and it takes a good one to handle the testing journey at Tokyo Race Course.

The Dubai World Cup, on the other hand, was designed with American racing in mind, broadly promoted in the U.S. and even referred to more often than not as a 1 1/4-mile event on dirt, when it is really run at 2,000 meters.

For those keeping score at home, 2,000 meters is 38 feet, 4 inches shy of 1 1/4 miles, and if you don't think that's significant, go tell Swain, who might have worn down Silver Charm in the 1998 running of the Cup with those extra couple of strides.

Then again, maybe not. Silver Charm's victory that night in Dubai remains one of the bravest races ever run by an American abroad. Three different challengers took shots at the gray colt from the top of the long stretch to the wire, and three times he fought back, finally edging Swain by a nose.

Besides Bob and Beverly Lewis, who owned Silver Charm, the list of American patrons bringing home the World Cup includes Allen Paulson (Cigar), Mike Pegram (Captain Steve), Gerald Ford (Pleasantly Perfect), and Ken Ramsey (Roses in May). In addition, the American-owned runners Soul of the Matter, L'Carriere, Victory Gallop, Behrens, Harlan's Holiday, and Wilko earned healthy checks for hitting the board.

When this year's World Cup field parades postward on Saturday night, Dubai time, Americans will have a mild rooting interest for reigning North American Horse of the Year Invasor, the Argentine-bred internationalist owned by Hamdan al-Maktoum and trained by Kentucky homeboy Kiaran McLaughlin. There will be a residue of U.S. appreciation for Premium Tap, now running for the sons of the king of Saudi Arabia while still nominally trained by John Kimmel. There is also the speed-figure darling Discreet Cat, who runs for Mohammed al-Maktoum's Godolphin Stable, was trained by Marylander Rick Mettee in New York last year, and was then handed back to Saeed bin Suroor in December.

Buff Bradley, trainer of 2006 World Cup runner-up Brass Hat and son of owner-breeder Fred Bradley, will be forgiven if he misses the telecast. As wounds go, the agony of last spring is still too fresh. The heady $1.2 million prize Brass Hat earned by finishing second to Electrocutionist, beaten just 1 1/2 lengths, was revoked some six weeks after the race when the gelding failed a test for a corticosteroid, despite the fact that administration was documented in accordance with Dubai World Cup medication withdrawal guidelines. The result was the most expensive disqualification in history.

"We had a great time over there," Bradley said Wednesday morning from the training center of his father's Kentucky farm near Frankfort. "And we were very thrilled with how he performed. We also thought we followed their rules, which is what really burned us. In fact, I've never been able to watch his race since it all happened. It hurts too much, and we'd rather keep remembering the good things."

The better memories include Brass Hat's runaway victory in the 2006 Donn Handicap, which set him up perfectly for his fine effort in Dubai.

"Just this morning, me and his groom and exercise rider watched the Donn in the tack room," Bradley said. "I thought it was time to get pumped up again, and that race brings chills every time you watch it."

Brass Hat, now 6, was sidelined last summer with a cracked sesamoid. Time and rest have allowed him to enjoy healthy exercise at the farm, and now Bradley is planning to bring his stable star to Churchill Downs within the next month to see if a comeback is in the cards.

"He's a very special horse to us, so there'll be no pressure asking him to do something he's not prepared to do," Bradley said. "I guarantee you, though, if you see him racing he'll be 110 percent. And if he can't compete at a very good level, he'll just come back home and enjoy life at the farm."

But what if he can still muster the form that nearly won the World Cup?

"Well, we've always got the hope and dream of maybe winning the Breeders' Cup Classic with him and beating one of those guys from Dubai," Bradley replied.

"You know, they called from Dubai several times before the World Cup last year to buy him," Bradley added. "If I ever had a horse that good again and they called, I guess I'd have to add an extra couple million."