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American trio looks to recapture World Cup glory

Animal Kingdom will be racing on synthetic for the first time since his big win in the 2011 Spiral (Neville Hopwood/Dubai Racing Club)
Champions Royal Delta and Animal Kingdom, and synthetic specialist Dullahan, will try to end America's recent frustration in the Group 1, $10 million Dubai World Cup on Saturday. Among those standing in their way are the top three from the 2012 World Cup -- defending champion Monterosso, Capponi and Planteur -- as well as the red-hot Hunter's Light.

When the world's richest race was held on the dirt at its original home of Nad al Sheba, the stars and stripes often waved proudly, with a total of eight winners from 14 runnings. The move to Tapeta at Meydan in 2010, however, changed all that, and United States-based runners have been totally shut out ever since. But that recent trend could be obliterated by this year's three-pronged American raiding party, all of whom have won on synthetic surfaces in the past.

Royal Delta, a bad-trip ninth in last year's World Cup, promises to carve out a better passage with her sharper early speed. The two-time Eclipse Award winner is in great form at present, with a three-race winning streak spanning the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational, a successful title defense in the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic, and an effortless romp in the Grade 3 Sabin in her recent prep.

Her Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, famously won the inaugural World Cup with Cigar in 1996, and it would be fitting if he were to become the first U.S. trainer to win a World Cup on synthetic. A Royal Delta victory would be historic on another front: the daughter of Empire Maker would be the first female to take the prize. The best finish by a distaffer so far was the runner-up effort by Japan's To the Victory in 2001.

Animal Kingdom seeks to join Silver Charm as the only Kentucky Derby heroes to win the World Cup. The Graham Motion charge missed this race last year because of an injury, but has returned to action with a pair of terrific performances in defeat. A troubled, late-closing second to Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup Mile in his comeback, Animal Kingdom made an arguably premature move in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf and got run down by the top-class Point of Entry. The strapping chestnut bids to enhance his resume before retiring to Arrowfield Stud in Australia, underscoring the importance of his presence here.

Monterosso aims to make history as the first two-time World Cup winner (Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club)
Dullahan might not have the raw star power of his compatriots, but is unquestionably at his best on synthetic. Trained by Dale Romans, who sent out Roses in May to capture the 2005 World Cup, Dullahan collared Game on Dude in track-record time in last summer's Grade 1 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. He previously turned a rare Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity/Grade 1 Blue Grass double at Keeneland, achieved only once before, by the great Round Table. Dullahan's local prep in the Group 3 Burj Nahaar on Super Saturday went wrong from the beginning, when he was off a step slow and rushed up. It was no surprise that he had little left for the drive, fading to 11th, and should be an entirely different proposition in the World Cup with new rider Gary Stevens.

Godolphin's Monterosso aims to become the first two-time World Cup winner, but the Mahmood al Zarooni trainee enters under a cloud this time. Unlike last year, when he resurfaced with a useful fourth in the 2012 Group 1 Maktoum Challenge Round 3, Monterosso trudged home a non-threatening ninth in the same course-and-distance prep on March 9. The son of Dubawi must improve considerably to be involved in this far tougher spot. Monterosso will be making his third straight appearance in the World Cup, having finished a close third in 2011.

Stablemate Capponi has an even more difficult task, for he hasn't run since his second-place finish a year ago. Nearly all World Cup winners have had a recent prep, and even the two who were just starting their campaigns (Singspiel in 1997 and Almutawakel in 1999), had raced the previous fall. On the plus side, Capponi was a star at the 2012 Carnival, when he ran away with the Maktoum Round 3, and a return to anything like that form would see him crack the superfecta.

Planteur attempted the 2012 World Cup off a layoff, finishing a creditable third. Trainer Marco Botti learned from that experience and decided to give the well-bred son of Danehill Dancer a prep this time, in the February 23 Winter Derby Trial at Lingfield. Planteur responded with a cozy neck victory in track-record time on the Polytrack. Just purchased by Sheikh Joann bin Hamad al Thani, he is eligible to give his new Qatari owner a quick return on investment.

Hunter's Light has looked superb in winning both of his local preps, while stablemate Kassiano (far left) is a dark horse (Andrew Watkins/Dubai Racing Club)
Godolphin fields one of the early favorites in Hunter's Light, who has won five of his last six and dominated in both of his starts at the Carnival. After bolting up by 3 1/4 lengths in the Group 2 Maktoum Challenge Round 2, the Saeed bin Suroor charge followed up with a 2 3/4-length decision in Round 3 on Super Saturday. Hunter's Light was continuing his rich vein of form from Europe, where he starred in the Anatolia Trophy over the Tapeta in Istanbul and the Group 1 Premio Roma on turf, before heading to Dubai.

Bin Suroor will be represented by two others in the World Cup -- the progressive handicapper Kassiano, a fast-finishing second to Hunter's Light in the Maktoum Round 3, and course-specialist miler African Story, who is unexpectedly stepping up to about 1 1/4 miles for the first time. African Story, an easy winner of last year's Group 2 Godolphin Mile on World Cup night, would have been a prohibitive favorite in that event, especially after his comeback score in the March 9 Burj Nahaar at the metric mile. The Pivotal gelding has never raced past a mile, and faces a distance test here.

Treasure Beach closed for sixth in the Maktoum Round 3 in a sneakily-good debut for Mike de Kock. The son of Galileo was formerly trained by Aidan O' Brien, for whom he won the Group 1 Irish Derby and Grade 1 Secretariat in 2011. His best result of 2012 was a second to Point of Entry in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational.

Two World Cup runners, Red Cadeaux and Meandre, were last seen finishing first and third, respectively, in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase on December 9. Both have questions to answer in these conditions. Red Cadeaux made his name as a stayer, just missing in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup in 2011, and hasn't raced over this short a trip in four years. The Ed Dunlop veteran is capable on synthetic, though.

Meandre, a three-time Group 1 winner at 1 1/2 miles on turf, could do no better than fourth in his synthetic experiment at Chantilly on March 2. But that warm-up was at a metric mile, and the crafty trainer Andre Fabre must have seen what he wanted in order to let him take his chance here.

Rounding out the deep field is multiple Group 3 victor Side Glance, another who has spent nearly all of his career on turf. A remote third to Frankel in last summer's Group 1 Queen Anne, he was most recently fourth in the Group 1 Jebel Hatta on Super Saturday.

Post positions will be drawn on Wednesday.

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