Dubai: American Horse of the Year California Chrome will be the headline attraction at the $10 million Dubai World Cup at Meydan racecourse on Saturday.
Last year`s Kentucky Derby winner heads a cast of nine runners for the world`s richest race, which is due off at 9pm local time (1700GMT).
Aligned against him are horses from Britain, Dubai and Japan, which fields its champion dirt horse, Hokko Tarumae, and the Japan Cup winner, Ephipaneia.
Trained by 78-year-old former jockey Art Sherman on America`s west coast, California Chrome is heavily favoured to take home the $6 million winner`s prize.
"Eveything has gone smoothly in the build-up," Sherman said. "We couldn`t be happier with our horse."
California Chrome has a huge fan club in the United States. He is a rags-to-riches horse so beloved of racefans, having cost just $10,000 to produce. He has already bankrolled more than $4 million in prize-money.
The horse belongs to a pair of blue-collar owners in Steve Coburn and Perry Martin. They race under the Dumb Ass Partners banner in a good-natured jibe at the series of horse experts who advised them to sell the broodmare from which they bred their champion runner.
California Chrome followed up his Kentucky Derby triumph in May by winning the Preakness Stakes. But he failed to complete the American Triple Crown when he could finish only fourth in the concluding leg, the Belmont Stakes, in June.
Nevertheless, the four-year-old horse was a clear-cut winner in voting for Horse of the Year honours in January.
California Chrome is one of 12 American-trained runners on an eight-race card which carries a total prize-money of $30 million on Saturday.
His presence in Dubai vindicates the authorities` decision to change the racing surface after last year`s World Cup renewal, which failed to attract an American-trained horse.
Much has been made of the new dirt track, which replaced the synthetic Tapeta surface over which Hokko Tarumae finished last after failing to handle underfoot conditions 12 months ago.
Earlier this week Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum, a brother of Dubai`s Ruler, Sheikh Mohammed, suggested the sand-based surface might not suit American horses even though it has been largely responsible for their return in numbers this year.
But Sherman is adamant the new track will not be offered as an excuse in the event his horse is beaten.
"I`m not worried about the track at all," he said. "Good horses will go on any surface, even tarmac."
Sherman`s thoughts were echoed by Bill Mott, who traind the inaugural Dubai World Cup winner, Cigar, back in 1996. Mott, who is represented by five-year-old Lea this time, said there was nothing to fear in the surface.
"I walked over it and have seen my horse get over it well," Mott said. "It looks and feels a lot like the surface we have at Churchill Downs."
Mott`s assessment will delight connections of California Chrome, whose Kentucky Derby triumph was gained at Churchill Downs. But Mott believes that Lea is no forlorn contender.
"He is in the top five horses back home," the trainer said. "California Chrome is a worthy favourite but I feel my horse deserves respect."
Hopes of a local victory rest squarely with Saeed Bin Suroor, who trains for Sheikh Mohammed`s Godolphin operation. Bin Suroor runs both Prince Bishop and African Story, who won the race last year on the old synthetic surface.
African Story bids to become the first repeat winner in 20 World Cup renewals. The horse did win over the new surface earlier this month but will have to raise his game significantly to follow up against some of the world`s best horses.
Best of the supporting races is the $6 million Dubai Sheema Classic over 2400m on turf.
It features Main Sequence and Flintshire, from the United States and France respectively, who filled the first two places in the Breeders` Cup Turf in October.
They are opposed by Japan`s champion filly Harp Star, Hong Kong champion Designs On Rome, and the top-class British challenger, Just The Judge.
Rounding off a truly cosmopolitan equine gathering is Sir Fever, the Uruguayan Triple Crown winner who contests the UAE Derby over 1800m on the dirt track.