Pletcher made the long trip to the Middle East this week, and will saddle Harlan's Holiday Saturday in the $6 million Dubai World Cup, which is part of a lucrative card at the Nad Al Sheba track.
The Dubai World Cup debuted in 1996, and the Empire Racing Association has generally been able to attract a marquee field to the Middle East. The inaugural event was a big success with undefeated American thoroughbred champion Cigar winning the event on the way to retirement.
The war in Iraq has some anxious trainers and owners keeping horses at home this year. Grade I winners Congaree and Medaglia d'Oro are among the horses staying stateside. One of the bigger hits came Monday, when the Japanese Racing Association decided to keep home possible favorite Gold Allure, just as the horse was about to be loaded on a plane.
The race for three-year-olds and up has not attracted any horses believed to be serious candidates for the upcoming Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher, however, decided to make the trip after talking to colleague Kiaran McLaughlin, who is based in Dubai for about five months every year, and told him there was no need to be apprehensive.
"Anytime you come in for a race of this magnitude, there's a lot of excitement," Pletcher said. "It's very difficult whenever you have to travel as far as you have to travel, but (Harlan's Holiday) seems to have handled that well. He's fit, and we're just trying to keep him happy."
The winner of last year's Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes and this year's Donn Handicap, Harlan's Holiday drew the 10th post in the 11-horse field for the 1 1/4-mile race.
"I'm very pleased with him," said Pletcher, who trains three potential Kentucky Derby starters this year in Indy Dancer, Aristocrat, and Lion Tamer.
There is no betting at the track, but British bookmakers have installed Harlan's Holiday at 5-1 odds.
The early favorite is Nayef, who drew the middle position, and is the 13-8 choice. Nayef, a son of Gulch, won the $2 million Dubai Sheema Classic on turf last year after he was kept out of the Dubai World Cup. However, the horse is 0-for-4 at the 1 1/4-mile distance, and has not raced since winning the Group One Juddmonte International in August in York, England.
Godolphin Racing, the Dubai-based organization that has won the event four times, has entered Moon Ballad and Godolphin. Moon Ballad, who drew the difficult 11th post, is a two-time winner on dirt at Nad Al Sheba, but was fourth behind Essence of Dubai in last year's UAE Derby.
Saturday's card features seven races featuring $15.25 million in purses.
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