In the part of the race-day program for Saturday's $10 million Dubai World Cup where horses are listed by which countries they represent, an Australian flag flies next to the name of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. The designation is the product of owner Team Valor selling a majority of his breeding rights to Sydney-based Arrowfield Stud.
Despite Animal Kingdom being born, raised and raced his entire life in the United States, the Australian national anthem will be played should Arrowfield's future stallion prevail in the world's richest horse race.
The technicalities of a stud deal aside, Animal Kingdom is not only carrying the hopes of his American-based connections and fans, but the baggage of what being a U.S.-based runner on the Dubai World Cup card has come to mean recently.
Since the inaugural Dubai World Cup program was held in 1996, American-based runners have earned 20 victories on the lucrative card, second all time behind host country United Arab Emirates, along with nine wins in the signature race.
But those days of U.S. domination have come to an abrupt end since 2010, when the glittering showpiece Meydan Racecourse and its synthetic Tapeta main track replaced aging Nad al Sheba and its American-favored dirt surface.
In the years since WinStar Farm's Well Armed destroyed the 2009 Dubai World Cup field by 14 lengths, only the Carl O'Callaghan-trained Kinsale King has claimed victory for America on the card, taking the 2010 Dubai Golden Shaheen. Last year's U.S. contingent featured the champion filly Royal Delta and multiple Grade I winner Game On Dude, but they came home ninth and 12th, respectively, in the World Cup, with Giant Ryan's fifth-place run in the Golden Shaheen the best U.S. showing on the day.
The drop-off in American form in Dubai since the switch to Tapeta is no coincidence as dirt remains the primary surface U.S. horses are bred for and race on.
That said, this year's U.S. arensal is heralded as the best group yet to attempt to break that trend with Animal Kingdom, Royal Delta and multiple Grade I winner Dullahan set for the $10 million World Cup, three-time Grade I winner Little Mike taking on 13 others in the $5 million Dubai Duty Free on the turf, and champion Trinniberg making his first start since his Breeders' Cup Sprint win in the $2 million Golden Shaheen.
Graded stakes-placed Private Zone, trained by Doug O'Neill, is also entered in the Golden Shaheen while Breeders' Cup Juvenile runner-up He's Had Enough and El Camino Real Derby winner Dice Flavor carry U.S. hopes in the $2 million UAE Derby.
"We do have a strong hand in the Dubai World Cup, but if the American contingent ... takes to the surface they would be much better than anything we have to offer," said Simon Crisford, racing manager for Dubai-based Godolphin, which has five runners entered in the $10 million World Cup including defending race winner Monterosso. "Obviously, we have a home advantage ... but I do believe our horses would not have the same class as Animal Kingdom and Royal Delta.
"Of course, just because they are better quality horses does not mean they are going to win because we are racing at Meydan and our horses love the surface."
Though he has not raced over a synthetic surface since winning the Grade III Spiral Stakes at Turfway in 2011, Animal Kingdom regularly trained over a Tapeta surface at trainer Graham Motion's base at Fair Hill in Maryland.
Royal Delta, who was jostled about during her World Cup try in 2012, won over the Polytrack at Keeneland in 2011. Still, it is Dullahan who might have the strongest case as the Dale Romans-trainee has earned all three of his career wins in Grade I races over synthetic surfaces, including the Pacific Classic at Del Mar last August.
Dullahan and his stablemate Little Mike also have key acclimation time at Meydan with each running in prep races there earlier this month. Both were off the board in their respective preps but Romans — who won the 2005 Dubai World Cup with Roses in May — says his duo got what they needed from those runs: experience.
"It's a very tough task to come over here and win the richest races in the world against some of the best horses, but coming early gives us the best chance," Romans said. "I wouldn't come halfway across the world if I didn't think we were going to win. There are some good Americans here; we have our best here."
Dubai World Cup
When: 2:05 p.m. Saturday
Where: Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, United Arab Emirates
For: 4-year-olds and up
Distance: 11⁄4 miles Group: I
Purse: $10 million TV: TVG
PP Horse Jockey Odds
1 Treasure Beach Soumillon 20-1
2 Red Cadeaux Mosse 30-1
3 Dullahan Stevens 6-1
4 Hunter's Light De Sousa 7-2
5 Capponi Atejbi 20-1
6 Side Glance Spencer 30-1
7 Planteur Moore 30-1
8 Royal Delta Smith 4-1
9 Meandre Guyon 30-1
10 Monterosso Barzalona 20-1
11 African Story Fallon 10-1
12 Animal Kingdom Rosario 5-1
13 Kassiano Buick 12-1
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com. Twitter: @horseracinghl.