03/28/2007 11:00PM

U.S. star trio head multinational Duty Free


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - They are not just blowing smoke in Dubai calling the races on Saturday at Nad Al Sheba World Cup Night: The $5 million Dubai Duty Free drew a field of 16 horses representing eight different countries.

The three Americans in the Duty Free, a grass race at just less than 1 1/8 miles, are among the best horses in the country. English Channel set a course record when he won his 2007 debut last out at Gulfstream Park, Miesque's Approval shocked the Breeders' Cup Mile last fall, and Lava Man may be the best horse ever to have run in a $12,500 maiden-claiming race.

Miesque's Approval underwent an amazing transformation last year, going from a mid-level claimer to Grade 1 winner, winning the BC Mile by four lengths. But the first start of Miesque's Approval's 8-year-old season was disappointing, a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Canadian Turf.

Lava Man's biggest wins have come on dirt, but Leandro Mora, assistant to trainer Doug O'Neill, said, "The plan is to keep him on the grass for now." Lava Man won the Grade 1 Whittingham last summer, but was aided by making the lead and setting a slow pace.

English Channel has been among the best grass horses in the U.S. for two years, and the Duty Free's distance may suit him perfectly.

But the contenders are many in this race. Best Name almost won the French Derby last year, while Daiwa Major is an established Group 1 horse in Japan. Mystical, the first Indian horse to win in Dubai, has captured 16 of 19 career starts, and Pompeii Ruler is among the best horses in Australia. Trainer Mike de Kock has three starters in the race, including Irridescence, owned by a Team Valor partnership.

UAE Derby: Asiatic Boy has star quality

Discreet Cat's romp in the UAE Derby might have been the highlight of the 2006 World Cup card, and there could be a horse of similar quality in this year's edition of the race. Asiatic Boy has raced three times at Nad Al Sheba after being purchased last spring in Argentina, and he has grown increasingly dominant. The March 1 Al Bastakiya produced a seven-length victory, and Asiatic Boy won without having to work.

"If he were to win Saturday, he would be right up there with best I've had," said de Kock.

Asiatic Boy has at least two worthy rivals, Eu Tamben, who also has won impressively here this winter, and the filly Folk. While Asiatic Boy was bred on Southern Hemisphere time, and thus is a 4-year-old under the U.S. breeding calendar, Folk is a true 3-year-old. She needed three tries to win her maiden last fall, but scored by 10 lengths Nov. 26 at Belmont, and has built on that performance this winter. While racing decidedly inferior competition, Folk won the UAE 1000 Guineas by 4 3/4 lengths, and the UAE Oaks on March 8 by five.

Golden Shaheen: U.S. holds strong hand

U.S.-based horses have won six of the 11 editions of the Golden Shaheen, a straight-course dirt race of about six furlongs, and have captured the race the last three years. And that explains why five of the 16 horse entered in the $2 million Golden Shaheen have shipped in from the States.

The U.S. contingent includes Bishop Court Hill and Friendly Island from the barn of Todd Pletcher, plus Kelly's Landing, Harvard Avenue, and Nightmare Affair. Friendly Island has the best recent form of the group. A New York-bred of Grade 3 quality for much of his career, Friendly Island finished second in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, and won his first start of 2007, the Grade 2 Palos Verdes, by 2 1/2 lengths over Harvard Avenue. Harvard Avenue came back from that start to finish eighth in the San Carlos on Feb. 17, his worst race since coming back from a long layoff last fall. Kelly's Landing has similar form: he won the Mr. Prospector Handicap two races ago, but was last of five in the Feb. 3 Deputy Minister at Gulfstream.

The big question is what to expect from Thor's Echo, who was purchased and brought to Dubai by Sheikh Rashid bin Mohd al Maktoum after winning the BC Sprint and the Grade 1 De Francis Dash at the end of 2006. Thor's Echo was sixth of 16 with no apparent excuse in his March 1 Golden Shaheen prep, a race easily won by Terrific Challenge, who has a chance at a mild upset Saturday.

Mile: Boston Lodge has home advantage

Almost lost in the glamour of the World Cup card is the Godolphin Mile - which seems crazy, since the race boasts a $1 million purse. The Mile drew a field of 16, including locally based Boston Lodge, who has led the division during winter racing at Nad Al Sheba. To win this third straight race, Boston Lodge may have to get past a pair of Americans, Dixie Meister and Spring at Last.

Dixie Meister, trained by Julio Canani, won the Grade 2 San Pasqual in his most recent race, while Spring at Last - who has trained impressively here this week - was second in the Grade 2 Strub Stakes before finishing fifth the Santa Anita Anita Handicap last out for trainer Doug O'Neill.