Cross Counter became the first British-trained horse to win the Flemington showpiece last November and despite having been off the track since, he was the 7-4 favourite for his Dubai debut on Saturday in the hands of William Buick.
The four-year-old travelled powerfully behind the pacesetters for much of the two miles (3200m) but had a fight on his hands when Ispolini came along the rail under Brett Doyle.
The Charlie Appleby-trained pair settled down to fight it out and after a pulsating battle, it was Cross Counter who eventually came out on top by 1-1/4 lengths.
“Obviously there was a little bit of pressure bringing the winner of a Melbourne Cup back from a break, but I've been very happy with all my team and I always felt whatever Cross Counter did tonight, there would be more improvement to come into the season,” Appleby said.
“I see no reason why the Ascot Gold Cup won't be on his agenda and I'm also delighted with Ispolini, who is also improving.”