Dubai: Thursday's meeting of the Dubai World Cup Carnival at Meydan is undoubtedly the best of the season thus far with four Group races, all on Tapeta, highlighted by the middle rounds of the Maktoum Challenge.
The Group 2 Thoroughbred version, over 1900m, has attracted a quality field of 11 with Godolphin trainers Saeed Bin Surour and Mahmoud Al Zarouni responsible for five runners between them. Of the quintet, Frankie Dettori elects to ride UAE debutant Dubai Prince for Al Zarouni. The 4yo only had two runs in the UK last year, winning a small race at Newbury before finding the opposition too hot in the Group 1 Champion Stakes at Ascot. Al Zarouni also saddles Biondetti, the mount of Mickael Barzalona and another who only managed two runs as a 3yo in 2011. Al Zarouni said: "They are two nice horses and ones we have high hopes for. They have good draws and hopefully both can run well in what looks a good race."
Bin Surour is seeking an eighth win in the race which was first run in 1994 and his Prince Bishop was 10th in last year's Dubai World Cup and could not have been more impressive when winning on his recent return, while stable companion Mendip was a dual Carnival winner in 2011 over 1600m but was a bit disappointing when defending his crown in Maktoum Challenge I a month ago. The trainer's third runner Pisco Sour is having his first start for Godolphin and on Tapeta.
South African Mike De Kock has won the race three times and saddles Master Of Hounds who looks a danger under Christophe Soumillon after chasing home stable companion Musir in Maktoum Challenge I. Runner-up in last year's UAE Derby for Aidan O'Brien, his Meydan run a month ago was his first for De Kock who said: "We were pleased with that run over 1600m and he should have improved from the outing and the extra distance should suit him."
De Kock's Bold Silvano won the Maktoum Challenge II last year on his sole UAE start but has not run since. He makes his first start in 53 weeks in the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes over 1600m, also on Tapeta. Considered a genuine World Cup contender by many, he should run well but is entitled to need the outing.
The UAE 2000 Guineas is also over 1600m on Tapeta. Restricted to the 3yo Classic generation, Dark Matter, winner of the 1400m trial, looks likely to be a popular Pick Six favourite having beaten five of his eight rivals in that race a month ago. Of those, De Kock's Mickdaam could have the best chance of reversing the form with the extra 200m certain to suit.
Racing opens with the Group 1 Purebred Arabian edition of the Maktoum Challenge but their race is over 2400m and has attracted 11 declarations. Albar Lotois looks a serious contender for trainer Eric Lemartinel with Wayne Smith picking up a nice spare ride.
Sahib Du Clos and Paris Gagner look others to consider for Saifaldin Deeb and Doug Watson respectively, with the progressive Takaamul likely to be popular with Pick Six players. Trained by Gill Duffield, he is the choice of Richard Hills from three runners owned by Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Finance Minister.
There is racing at Jebel Ali on Friday and Abu Dhabi on Sunday.