03/28/2009 12:00AM

Veritable millionaires' row in the desert

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The $5 million Dubai Duty Free is one of the richest races in the world, and Saturday's running has drawn a field to match its value. Total earnings for the group of 16 is about $28.2 million, and six horses have bankrolls greater than $2 million. And if the Japanese mare Vodka takes the top prize she will surpass $10 million in earnings.

Sure, sure - money isn't everything. But here, it's a fair appraisal of quality in the Duty Free, contested on grass over 1,777 meters, which is about nine furlongs. The field contains 10 Group 1 winners, and is so deep that Kip Deville, first and second in the last two Breeders' Cup Miles, will need racing luck and a top effort to even make a dent.

Hyperbaric is the other American in the Duty Free; both he and Kip Deville are front-end type horses at this distance, and should be close to a quick pace Saturday. Locally based Gladiatorus won two shorter grass races here this winter in runaway-train fashion, while defending Duty Free champ Jay Peg pressed the pace last year, and will be forced to use his speed after breaking from post 15.

Jay Peg lost by 15 lengths in a minor stakes Jan. 22, his first start since victory in the May 18 Singapore Cup. But he was much better in a second-place finish to return rival Balius on March 5, and South African trainer Herman Brown brought Jay Peg into last year's Duty Free on a similarly improving pattern.

Another South African, trainer Mike de Kock, has two horses for the race. Listed stakes winner Bankable is light on accomplishment but long on promise, and could get a favorable run from the rail. Archipenko was an unlucky third to Jay Peg last year, and may be a narrow favorite this time. Second with trouble in the Arlington Million, Archipenko won his Feb. 26 comeback race here. Breaking from post 10, Archipenko could get comfortable with speed in front of him.

"He loves to have a target," said jockey Kevin Shea.

Vodka, another top contender, was fourth in the 2008 Duty Free, but might be better this year. She finished a seriously troubled fifth in her local prep last month, stuck behind horses in the stretch.

"She's flexible," jockey Yutaka Take said through an interpreter. "She can make her race at any time."

British invader Paco Boy was favored in early English betting on the Duty Free, but has never raced beyond one mile and drew poorly in post 13. Two Australians are in the race, with Tuesday Joy perhaps slightly better than Niconero.

Godolphin has three entries. Alexandros does not have Group 1 form, and while Lady Marian does, she's likely to need her first start since last fall. Long layoff horse Chreacadoir will not show his best coming back from a broken leg.

"He'll be rusty as an old nail," said racing manager Simon Crisford.

And that will not do in this glittering race.

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