Updated on 09/17/2011 10:09AM

Velazquez will have eye on home front

Gary I. Rothstein/Equi-Photos
Harlan's Holiday, here winning the Donn with John Velazquez, has been working in Dubai for his Cup start.

ELMONT, N.Y. - John Velazquez will have more than the war with Iraq on his mind when he travels to Dubai on Wednesday to ride Harlan's Holiday in Saturday's $6 million Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba.

Velazquez's wife, Leona, is expecting the couple's second child. While Leona is not due until April 7, she has been experiencing contractions for almost a week, John Velazquez said Monday.

"I was hoping she would have had it before now," Velazquez said. "Now, I'm hoping she doesn't have it until I get back."

Naturally, Velazquez has concerns about traveling to the Middle East because of the war with Iraq. Velazquez, however, said he wants to go because he believes Harlan's Holiday has a good chance to win the world's richest horse race.

"I've got to go for my main client," Velazquez said, referring to trainer Todd Pletcher, for whom Velazquez rides first call. "Todd's been really good to me," he said, calling Harlan's Holiday "a good horse, and I don't want to lose the horse. He's probably the best horse I have for the year, and I want to stay close to that."

Velazquez is expected to ride at Aqueduct on Wednesday and then catch a flight that evening from either JFK or Newark. The flight stops in London before continuing to Dubai. Velazquez said that according to conversations he and Angel Cordero, his agent, have had with people in Dubai, "everything there is normal."

Harlan's Holiday put in his final workout for the race at Nad Al Sheba on Sunday, drilling five furlongs in 1:00.72 under exercise rider Patti Krotenko.

Pletcher, who was expected to leave for Dubai on Tuesday, said his assistants told him that Harlan's Holiday worked "as good as he possibly could work."

Harlan's Holiday figures to be among the betting favorites in a World Cup field made up mostly of European turf horses trying to transfer their form to the dirt. Among the top contenders are Nayef, winner of last year's Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes at York; Sei Mi, runner-up in last year's World Cup; Grandera, and possibly Sulamani, who finished second in last year's Arc de Triomphe.

Blue Burner, who finished second to Harlan's Holiday in last year's Florida Derby, will also run; he was recently sold by George Steinbrenner to the Fustok family's Buckram Oak Farm. Blue Burner will run, however, in the colors of Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. On Monday, Blue Burner worked six furlongs at Nad Al Sheba in 1:14.

The World Cup tops the world's richest day of Thoroughbred racing. The seven-race card, with purse money totaling $15.25 million, also includes the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen with North American champion Xtra Heat, the $2 million Sheema Classic, the $2 million Dubai Duty Free, the $2 million UAE Derby, and the $1 million Godolphin Mile, which includes defending race winner Grey Memo.

Four other North American jockeys are expected to ride in Dubai: Rick Wilson, who is based in Maryland, and three Southern California riders, Alex Solis, Tyler Baze, and Kent Desormeaux. Wilson will ride Xtra Heat. Solis's top mount in Dubai is Captain Squire in the $2 million Golden Shaheen Stakes over six furlongs, a race in which Baze rides Avanzado, the winner of the Palos Verdes Handicap.

Desormeaux has been booked to ride Blue Burner in the $6 million Dubai World Cup and Outta Here in the $2 million UAE Derby.

Arlington Park will serve as the North American wagering hub for the World Cup, and many North American outlets will take bets on the race.

Officials at Nad Al Sheba have canceled an elaborate opening ceremony and pushed back the post time by 30 minutes, to 9:40 p.m. local time or 12:40 p.m. Eastern.

- My Cousin Matt, trained by Scott Lake, worked four furlongs in 47.42 seconds Monday at Nad Al Sheba in preparation for the Golden Shaheen.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen and Mike Welsch