DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - Since opening its doors in 2010, the Meydan Racecourse and its all-weather surface has not been kind to American horses in the $10 million Dubai World Cup.
They have never won the world's richest horse race at Meydan despite sending top horses including Game on Dude last year and three-time Eclipse Award winner Gio Ponti in 2011. American horses regularly won on the old dirt track, taking eight of the first 14 races.
But Saturday's race could be different.
Led by 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, the American entrants in the 13-horse field are the strongest ever. Trainer Bill Mott has returned with two-time Eclipse winner Royal Delta, and Pacific Classic winner Dullahan is entered.
``When it was on the dirt, Americans dominated. Now it's on a sort of middle surface between dirt and grass,'' said Barry Irwin, founder of Team Valor which co-owns Animal Kingdom.
``Frankly our horses aren't as good as they used to be. To have an American horse come up on this kind of stage and win it, I think it would be important for our country in terms of morale and quality of bloodstock to be recognized as being still top class.''
Dullahan trainer Dale Romans expected a good showing from the American horses, considering their pedigree.
``You have the Kentucky Derby winner, three Breeders' Cup winners, Dullahan is a three-time graded winner and won one of our more prestigious races, the Pacific Classic,'' he said. ``You are getting the best of us for this World Cup, for sure.''
Part of the optimism was also because the rest of the field wasn't considered as strong. There were also no Japanese horses, who won the race in 2011 and were top contenders last year.
Godolphin, the stables owned by Dubai ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, has five entrants, including 2012 winner Monterosso, who has struggled of late.
Hunter's Light is expected to shine for Godolphin. He is the favorite having won five of his last six starts, including a race this month in Dubai.
But even Godolphin and its trainer Saeed bin Suroor insist the Americans are the favorites, notably Animal Kingdom.
``He's won at the same distance. He is a tough horse. He has brilliant results in America,'' said bin Suroor, who has trained five Dubai World Cup winners but none since 2006. ``Our horse is an Italian winner, Dubai winner. But he needs to improve in this race.''
Animal Kingdom and Dullahan are being talked about as favorites mainly due to their versatility and success on all-weather and synthetic surfaces. Animal Kingdom has won on dirt and all-weather while Dullahan has three Grade 1 wins on all-weather surfaces - including the course record at the Pacific Classic.
The Dubai World Cup could be Animal Kingdom's last chance for a win. He is also scheduled to race at Royal Ascot next month but has already been sold to Australian company Arrowfield for breeding purposes.
The 5-year-old was supposed to compete last year but was injured.
``It's always been my goal to prove that the Derby wasn't just him getting lucky,'' Animal Kingdom trainer Graham Motion said. ``He is the best horse I've ever trained. He is an exceptional animal. I certainly have never come here with a contender like this, and quite frankly I never imagined I would have a contender for the World Cup like he is.''
Jockey Gary Stevens will ride Dullahan just months after coming out of retirement. Stevens won the Dubai World Cup on Silver Charm in 1998 and came in second in the 1996 race behind the Mott-trained Cigar.
``I see my horse on the rise,'' Romans said. ``Those horses (Animal Kingdom and Royal Delta), everyone knows what they are capable of. They are two of our best for sure. ... I have a horse that has proven to like synthetic surfaces. I'm not going to take a back seat to anybody with my horse.''
Royal Delta actually has the best odds of the three. She made her first appearance in Dubai last year, finishing ninth after being caught up in traffic.
Mott believed her chances of becoming the first mare to win had improved as she had matured and settled better this time.
``It would be a great thing to win it with a mare,'' Mott said. ``She is good, talented and capable. We got beat here last year and didn't have the best of trips with her. But right after the race, (owner) Mr. (Benjamin) Leon said `I think she can run better than that and I'd like to come back next year.'''