03/26/2007 11:00PM

World's best clash in Dubai

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If Discreet Cat actually does run in the $6 million Dubai World Cup on Saturday, the 1 1/4-mile race should provide 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor with a gilt-edged opportunity to avenge his only career defeat.

Last year, Discreet Cat was an impressive winner of the $2 million UAE Derby at Nad Al Sheba racecourse, while Invasor, making his first start outside South America, checked in a modest fourth. This year, the result figures to be different for three concrete reasons:

*Invasor returns to Dubai as an established world-class performer with a penchant for running powerful races at classic distances. This he demonstrated while winning the 1 3/16-mile Pimlico Special in May and defeating the talented Bernardini in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs last fall.

* After returning to competition with an impressive victory in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park earlier this year, Invasor has not missed any training in America or Dubai and seems dead fit for this important rematch.

* Discreet Cat may be one of the most talented horses seen in the past decade, but he also has not raced beyond a mile since the 2006 UAE Derby, and has in fact missed several races and workouts during the past year due to minor nagging injuries. One of those missing races was a designed prep race for the Dubai World Cup at Nad Al Sheba four weeks ago. At the bottom line, it seems a stretch to expect him to be at his very best for this race.

Realistically, Invasor might have more to worry about from Premium Tap, the same horse who finished a good third in the Breeders' Cup Classic, then won the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs with a Beyer Speed Figure that was very close to Invasor's career best.

Based on Premium Tap's excellent late-season form in 2006, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz purchased the 5-year-old son of Pleasant Tap and promptly was rewarded with a victory in Saudi Arabia's prestigious King's Cup as a prelude to his Dubai World Cup bid.

Other world-class horses tentatively scheduled to run in this $6 million contest include Hong Kong's Horse of the Year Bullish Luck, Storm Mayor from Argentina, the British-based Kandidate, the Japanese Stakes winner Vermilion, and the Ian Jory-trained Forty Licks, the 2006 Horse of the Year in Argentina.

Invasor, Premium Tap, and Discreet Cat are only three of more than a dozen top-flight horses with American roots and/or American connections expected to compete in the $21 million Dubai World Cup extravaganza, including 10 Grade 1 winners.

Among the most prominent is Lava Man, the undisputed Thoroughbred "King of California racing" who is in Dubai for the $5 million Dubai Duty Free at about 1 1/8 miles on the Nad Al Sheba turf course.

Obviously, this adventurous placement goes against the grain of Lava Man's Achilles' heel, which has found him badly wanting in his attempts outside his home state. Moreover, the competition will include several world-class turf performers, including the Todd Pletcher- trained English Channel, a winner of three Gradeo1 turf races last year, and Miesque's Approval, the 2006 BC Mile winner who will be stretching out slightly in distance. On a positive note, several Dubai observers have reported that Lava Man did ship well and has trained superbly since his arrival.

In the six-furlong, $2 million Golden Shaheen, which is contested on a straightaway dirt course in front of the Nad Al Sheba grandstand, high expectations will be riding on the 2006 Eclipse Award-winning sprinter Thor's Echo, who was second to Proud Tower Too in this race last year.

Adding to the pressure is the fact that Thor's Echo was purchased during the winter by Dubai's Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed al-Maktoum specifically to win this race. But, his task will not be made any easier by the presence of a few other American-based sprinters with winning potential. These include Nightmare Affair, Kelly's Landing, and Todd Pletcher's pair of Bishop Court Hill and Friendly Island. Of these, both Friendly Island and Nightmare Affair have special upset credentials, having finished second and third to Thor's Echo in the 2006 BC Sprint after both were forced to rally wide while racing against the grain of the inside-biased Churchill Downs racing strip. Nightmare Affair, in fact, has been training sharply in Dubai for a serious upset bid, and Florida-based jockey Eddie Castro is coming in to ride the horse he has guided to six stakes wins.

Pletcher, who seems to have an endless supply of top horses for every type of Grade 1 race, also has shipped Grade 1 winners Host and Honey Ryder to compete in the $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic at about 1 1/2 miles on the turf, in which Neil Drysdale's promising Obrigado also will compete.

In addition to Lava Man, trainer Doug O'Neill has shipped longshot Harvard Avenue for the Golden Shaheen and has Spring at Last ready for the $1 million Godolphin Mile, a race that has been targeted by Julio Canani with the improving Dixie Meister. Both American-based milers will have to beat last year's UAE 2000 Guineas winner Gold for Sale, trained by Jory, an accomplished world traveler who developed Best Pal during the early 1990's, when Jory was based in California.

Jory also trains the promising Joe Louis, a contender in the UAE Derby, whose main competition seems to be Asiatic Boy. Unlike last year, when Discreet Cat was touted as a possible Kentucky Derby contender, this year's UAE Derby seems unlikely to produce a serious Kentucky Derby prospect.

For horseplayers hoping to get some additional insight into the present condition of the principal World Cup contenders, I suggest visiting

blog.dubairacingclub.com, where selected workout reports for World Cup contenders are posted daily.

A few examples appear below:

Joe Louis - 600 meters in 33.8 seconds, with the first 400 meters in 22.15 seconds. Clocker's comment: "Traveled well on tight reins with plenty in hand. Impressive workout."

Thor's Echo - 600 meters in 33.2 seconds. Apparently, Thor's Echo began this work from the 1,200-meter chute and was only clocked for the final 600 meters. Clocker's comment: "Finished well."

Asiatic Boy - 800 meters in 47.33 seconds; his first 400 meters in 23.39. Clocker's comment: "Traveled well on tight reins entering the straight and very easy in the end. Good workout."

Lava Man - Galloped 1,600 meters on the turf course. Clocker's comment: "Not timed; handled the course well in an easy canter."

Nightmare Affair - Galloped strongly once around the track. Clocker's comment: "Neck bowed; bright gray color; good attitude."