If the build up to Saturday's $6 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) has revealed one thing, it is that there will be no excuses for any of the four American runners in the Nad al Sheba showpiece.
With Godolphin hope Grand Hombre withdrawn Friday because of his hoof injury, 12 horses will go to post for the 10 furlong dirt event. Grand Hombre is likely to be sent to Godolphin's new Belmont Park base later in the year.
The presence in Dubai of Roses In May's ebullient owner Ken Ramsey has helped ensure the pre-race focus has been thrust mainly on the Breeders' Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge (gr. I) runner-up, quoted as the 7-4 favorite by English bookmakers Coral.
Trainer Dale Romans said the 5-year-old has "never been better" and is strongly expected to improve off his second place in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) Feb. 5.
"I didn't squeeze the lemon enough to win the Donn," Romans said. "It didn't take him long to get over his journey and he is very happy here. We definitely have one of the best horses in the race; he deserves to be favorite. It brings its own kind of pressure, but I guess we should be happy with that. He looks the horse to beat."
Meanwhile, Ramsey said Roses In May's second-place finish to Saint Liam had "done him the world of good. He's full of life. We certainly think his running (style) suits this kind of course."
Almost inevitably, Ramsey and Romans believe Congrats is their biggest danger in a race that the American runners are expected to dominate. The happy look on trainer Richard Mandella's face when he described Congrats' condition would only confirm their view.
Having seen last year's World Cup winner Pleasantly Perfect
thrive in the Dubai sun, Mandella said: "This guy looks in the same kind of condition. When he arrived he looked as if he had never left his barn at Santa Anita. He's not as accomplished as Pleasantly Perfect -- yet! He is a horse I think is coming up to this level. His last race showed he is close to being there.
"Roses In May is definitely the one to beat, but he is not the only one. As a 2-year-old, Ruler's Court (campaigned by Sheikh Mohammed's endurance-horse trainer Ismail Mohammed, and owned by his son, Rashid) was very good, and he could be top-class."
Despite his mount arriving in Dubai 14 hours later than planned, Pat Valenzuela believes Lundy's Liability's big race experience at Nad Al Sheba could be a major advantage. The Bobby Frankel-trained Brazilian-bred won last year's UAE Derby when trained by South African Mike de Kock, who seeks to continue a golden run at Nad Al Sheba with Yard-Arm in the World Cup.
"I think the horse is very well even though he was a little bit late arriving," Valenzuela said of Lundy's Liability. "There's no doubt about it, he has already proved (to be) a top-class horse here and I'm hoping for the same kind of performance. All the horses seem to have come through everything well but I know that mine loves the track."
Wednesday's World Cup draw prompted no complaints from the connections of the American runners, party because the long Nad Al Sheba stretch tends to produce a fair result.
Jeff Mullins, trainer of the fourth American runner, Choctaw Nation, believes it will suit his mount in particular. "He's got three eighths of a mile to get going here," he said, adding that he had been "surprised" by Choctaw Nation's condition. "He looks better than he did before he came here," Mullins said.
In all, 13 American horses are expected to go to post on the world's most valuable race card, with American runners likely to prove as dominant in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) at six furlongs on dirt as they are in the World Cup itself.
Despite not having run since Nov. 27, Gary Tanaka's Pico Central is likely to start an odds-on favorite, but last year's success of Our New Recruit at odds of 20-1, with the favorite Cajun Beat in fourth, was a sign of America's depth in this particular race.
Four of the 11 Golden Shaheen runners are trained in the U.S., with the others being Bear Fan; My Cousin Matt, who will have to overcome his habit of starting slowly to figure; and Saratoga County.
The latter's trainer George Weaver is hopeful of an upset.
"I do think it is a disadvantage for Pico Central not to have run in a couple of months," Weaver said. I think we have got a very good chance, he's really come around in the last few months and is as good as we can get him."