03/14/2006 1:00AM

U.S. roster deep in World Cup

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
U.S.-based Relaxed Gesture will run in the $5 million Sheema Classic.

The United States will be represented by a record 19 runners on Dubai World Cup Night at Nad Al Sheba on March 25 on a six-race Thoroughbred card worth an astounding $21 million.

The big bucks also have attracted runners from every other corner of the globe. Argentina, Brazil, Chile, South Africa, Australia, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Britain, Ireland, and France will also be represented.

Five U.S. runners are in the $6 million Dubai World Cup, but likely not the raceday favorite. The William Bradley-trained Brass Hat, big winner of the Donn Handicap, heads an American contingent that also includes Magna Graduate and Super Frolic, plus the Craig Dollase-trained Wilko, who will be saddled by Jeremy Noseda, the man who engineered Wilko's last victory, in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Also making the trip is last year's World Cup third-place finisher Choctaw Nation. Recently bought by Sheikh Mohammed's son Rashid, Choctaw Nation had been pointed to the Godolphin Mile by trainer Jeff Mullins, but his new owner wants to see his colors fly in the big race, so he is going in the World Cup.

The U.S. horses will face two formidable opponents in the World Cup. Electrocutionist is the likely favorite by dint of his smashing dirt debut score on March 2 in the Group 2 Maktoum Challenge. A Group 1 winner on turf in England, Electrocutionist will be trying to give Godolphin its fourth World Cup title. Equally dangerous is Japan Cup Dirt winner Kane Hekili, who prepped for this by winning the Grade 1 February Stakes impressively at Tokyo last month.

Americans have dominated the six-furlong, $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, winning 5 of the last 6 runnings. Captain Squire, third in the 2003 Golden Shaheen, Malibu winner Proud Tower Too, Malibu third-place finisher Thor's Echo, Mr. Prospector winner Gaff, and Jet West are all capable sprinters, but may not quite be in the same league as the Brazilian-bred and -trained Heart Alone, who sped to a 3 3/4-length victory in the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint on Jan. 26, while spotting six pounds to 13 rivals.

Purses for both the 1 1/8-mile Dubai Duty Free and the 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic have been increased from $2 million to $5 million this year, making them the world's richest turf races.

The Duty Free is always the deepest race on the World Cup card and this year will be no different. Asakusa Den'en and Hat Trick from Japan, Hong Kong's Bullish Luck, Australia's Fields of Omagh, and Godolphin's Valixir are all Group 1 winners. So, too, are Perfect Promise and Team Valor's Irridescence, whose meeting might well be the first time Group 1-winning full sisters square off in a Group or Grade 1 race. Local Group 2 winners Linngari and Touch of Land, and the Americans - Host, The Tin Man, and last year's runner-up Whilly - appear to have their work cut out for them.

Trainer Christophe Clement has his Canadian International winner Relaxed Gesture ready to clash with Hong Kong Vase winner Ouija Board in the Sheema Classic. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin sends out Mustanfar for Hamdan Al Maktoum's Shadwell Stable, and Japan's Arima Kinen winner and Japan Cup runner-up Heart's Cry also must be considered.

The $1 million Godolphin Mile drew two Americans, Island Fashion and Shamoan. Both need improvement, facing the 7 1/4-length Burj Nahaar winner Marbush, who is trained locally by Dhruba Selvaratnam.

All eyes will be on Godolphin's Discreet Cat in the $2 million UAE Derby, his prep for a possible run in the Kentucky Derby. A handy allowance winner in his Nad Al Sheba 2006 debut on March 9, Discreet Cat will be facing many good-looking Southern Hemisphere 3-year-olds, including two now trained in the U.S. - McLaughlin's Argentine-bred Uruguayan Derby winner Invasor and the undefeated Dante Zanelli-trained Peruvian juvenile champion Dominguin. More dangerous are Gold for Sale from Argentina and Simpatico Bribon from Chile. Now trained by Ian Jory for Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan Mohammed Saud Al Kabeer, those two scored big wins in the UAE 2000 Guineas and Al Bastikiya, respectively, and will give Discreet Cat an acid test.