01/28/2011 3:59PM

Dubai World Cup Looms on Horizon


Thursday's feature race at Meydan will be Round 2 of the Maktoum Challenge. At 1 3/16 miles it is a virtual course and distance prep for the $10 million Dubai World Cup which will be run on March 27. Through 2009 it had been run at 1 1/8 miles at Nad Al Sheba. It is still the penultimate local prep for the world's richest race, preceding Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge at 1 1/4 miles on March 3.

Mendip, Godolphin's handy winner of the one-mile Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge on Jan. 13, will make just the sixth start of his career in Round 2. The 4-year-old son of Harlan's Holiday is 4-for-5 lifetime and will be expected to land the $200,000 Group 3 prize almost as easily as he taken Round 1. He is currently listed at 14-1 for the World Cup by Irish bookies Paddy Power. That looks like an overlay, so it might behoove his supporters to get down on him before his run in Round 2 on Thursday, when a victory would lower his price considerably.

Mendip is the only prominent Godolphin World Cup contender at this stage. There are, however, a few other serious candidates currently in training in Dubai, with a few more scheduled to arrive in time for at least one World Cup prep on Meydan's Tapeta surface.

One of those is Team Valor's Gitano Hernando, the 2009 Goodwood Handicap winner who has always seemed on the brink of a major breakthrough without ever having managed it. His Newmarket-based trainer Marco Botti has been observing his Dubai progress from afar this winter, and he is as low as 10-1 with Paddy Power for the World Cup.

Aidan O'Brien has not had a runner in Dubai since Powerscourt finished fifth in the 2005 Dubai Sheema Classic. There is no love lost between Coolmore boss John Magnier and Godolphin/Darley headman Sheikh Mohammed, who just happens to be in charge of the Emirate of Dubai. The personal animosities between them are in the process of being ironed out, however, and a number of O'Brien trainees have been nominated to big races at Meydan this winter.

Chief among them is Cape Blanco. The remarkable 5 1/2-length winner of the Irish Champion Stakes at the World Cup distance in September, albeit on turf, may or may not make the trip to Meydan.

Thursday night in Qatar at Doha Racecourse, the ex-O'Brien-trained Joshua Tree, wearing the colors of his new part-owner Khalifa Al Attiyah, was beaten into fourth place by the ex-O'Brien-trained Beethoven in 1 1/4-mile Emir's Trophy. Beethoven, now owned by Mohammed Kazim Al Ansari and trained in Qatar by Ahmed Kobeissi, is a possible for the World Cup.

For a number of years now, the Dubai Racing Carnival has attracted the attention of many European, South African and South American owners and trainers. Horses representing the United States, however, are rarely, if ever, seen in Dubai until World Cup week. The notable exception was Curlin, who spent much of the winter of 2008 in Dubai, using a win in a 1 1/4-mile handicap at Nad Al Sheba as a steppingstone to his World Cup victory a month later.

This year, both Kieran McLaughlin and Ben Cecil have been tempted by the big bucks available at the Carnival, not to mention the advantages of preparing a horse for World Cup Night at Meydan. McLaughlin, three times the champion trainer in the UAE, is sending his Hawthorne Gold Cup winner Redding Colliery there.The Mineshaft 5-year-old was third at Nad Al Sheba in the UAE 2000 Guineas in 2009 and was a winner on the Kempton Polytrack as a 2-year-old.

Ben Cecil is taking the same route with Crowded House. The nephew of British training legend Henry Cecil is pinning his World Cup hope's on Crowded House's second-place finish in last summer's Pacific Classic..

Henry Cecil himself could be represented by Twice Over in the World Cup. A 3-time Group 1 winner going a mile-and-a-quarter on turf in Europe, Twice Over acquitted himself well when third in Zenyatta's Breeders' Cup Classic but could manage only tenth behind Gloria de Campeao in last year's World Cup.

Gio Ponti will once again head the American contingent in this year's World Cup. A game fourth in last year's renewal, he is currently at Payson Park and will probably prep in a turf race somewhere in Florida before leaving for Dubai.

Ed Dunlop announced last week that his 4-time Group 1 winning 4-year-old filly Snow Fairyis no longer certain to make the trip to Dubai from her Newmarket base. And if she does head eastward, she is just as likely to run in the Sheema Classic as the World Cup.

The Japanese distaffer Buena Vista, Japan's Horse of the Year, will run in Dubai in either the World Cup or the Sheema Classic, but without benefit of a prep race. Last year she had used a victory against males in the Grade 2 Kyoto Kinen as a prep for her second-place finish in the Sheema Classic.

The current Paddy Power odds for the main World Cup contenders are: Cape Blanco 7-2: Twice Over 4-1: Snow Fairy 9-2: Gio Ponti 7-1: Gitano Hernando 10-1: Bold Silvano, the Mike de Kock-trained winner of the Durban July Cup, 10-1; Buena Vista 12-1; Musir, last year's UAE Derby winner, 12-1; Mendip 14-1; Santa Anita Handicap winner Misremembered 20-1; First Dude, who goes in Saturday's Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park, 20-1; Crowded House 25-1; and Redding Colliery 50-1.