DUBAI //The UAE and United States shared the Dubai World Cup when the race to secure the world's biggest purse was staged on dirt, and runners from the two countries have dominated the pre-race discussion ahead of the 18th staging of the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) feature at Meydan Racecourse tonight.
In the stars-and-stripes corner are Animal Kingdom, Royal Delta and Dullahan, a trio of horses whose CVs as a collective far outstrip anything the home team has to offer.
In the royal-blue corner, Godolphin, the international stables of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, fields five of the 13 runners.
The American horse Cigar won the inaugural running of the 10-furlong spectacular in 1996 and US-based trainers subsequently won the winner's purse a further seven times.
Saeed bin Suroor led the defence for Godolphin by winning five times but, in the three years the race has been held on the Tapeta synthetic surface at Meydan's glistening facility, neither Bin Suroor nor any horse that has crossed the Atlantic has prevailed.
The ghosts of US victories past have returned and are drawing on all of their experience to get one of their runners over the line first.
Bill Mott, who trained Cigar, has brought Royal Delta over again after her lacklustre ninth-place finish last season behind Monterosso.
Dale Romans, who won the 2005 event with Roses In May, trains Dullahan, who will be ridden by the 50-year-old Gary Stevens, who came out of retirement in January.
In what seems another lifetime, Stevens nearly snatched away the fairy tale 18 years ago when he loomed up alongside the unbeaten Cigar on Soul Of The Matter.
"That was as close as it was to us getting beaten," Mott said, recalling the race. "I never knew what he would do when asked to get down and battle because he had won all his races so easily. I watched the video last night and Soul Of the Matter ran up to him and went eyeball to eyeball. I didn't know he would gut it out like that. It does get very emotional as he did so much for me."
Stevens made up for the defeat, when guiding Silver Charm to victory in 1998, to become the first and only Kentucky Derby winner to win the race.
Animal Kingdom, the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner, therefore will bid to try to match that record, under Joel Rosario and the athletic chestnut colt appears to be the one horse that is universally feared.
Simon Crisford, Godolphin's racing manager, spoke about the dangers posed by Royal Delta and Animal Kingdom, but Mott, too, fears Graham Motion's charge.
"Simon Crisford said that to me the other day," Mott said. "I don't know if that is him psyching us out. It might affect me; I just don't know whether it will affect Royal Delta. I think he said that in the wrong ears.
"Animal Kingdom's presence makes it a very tough race.
"I have a lot of respect for him. He nearly won the Breeders' Cup Mile last year and he acts on all surfaces."
Of the five Godolphin runners, Mott picked out Hunter's Light as the pick of the home defence, despite the presence of the Mahmoud Al Zarooni-trained Monterosso and stablemate Capponi, who was second last year.
Bin Suroor also saddles Kassiano, who is a Tapeta specialist, having won three of his five races on it this season, and African Story, who has proved his World Cup night credentials with a victory in the Godolphin Mile 12 months ago.
It would be fitting in a straight shoot-out with the Americans that if Godolphin were to win the World Cup it is Bin Suroor's horse that prevailed.
Hunter's Light won Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge on Super Saturday three weeks ago under Silvestre De Sousa.
It is a springboard from which Bin Suroor's Dubai Millennium, Street Cry and Electrocutionist all made the step up to World Cup glory.
Bin Suroor is the usually the humblest of men, but he let himself slip this week. When asked about Royal Delta's chances of beating Hunter's Light he could not disguise the confidence he feels ahead of tonight's showdown.
"Royal Delta? Well, you know, I wish her good luck."