02/04/2015 4:04PM

African Story shaky on dirt in Al Maktoum Challenge

Dubai Racing Club/Andrew Watkins
African Story, now 8, will be racing for the first time since winning the Dubai World Cup last March.

When African Story last raced, he won the $10 million Dubai World Cup, but when he steps out onto the racetrack Thursday night at Meydan for his first start since March, there will be one very serious difference: The surface beneath African Story’s feet will be dirt.

Not long after African Story swept to victory in the World Cup, up came the Tapeta all-weather track surface installed when Meydan opened its palatial doors in 2010, and in came dirt, the surface over which internationally meaningful racing in Dubai got started at the old Nad al Sheba track.

African Story, who also won the 2012 Godolphin Mile, was an all-time horse for a course, thriving on the Tapeta like no other surface, but now his course is gone, and at age 8 he will be hard pressed to relive past glory in Round 2 of the Group 2, $250,000 Al Maktoum Challenge, the Thursday feature at Meydan.

African Story is one of 11 entrants a race to be contested over 1 3/16 miles. On Tapeta, he might be the one to beat, but on dirt he’s one to bet against.

:: DUBAI WORLD CUP CARNIVAL: Get PPs, watch Thursday’s Meydan card live

Surfer won Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, and his American-style pedigree has produced a 2-for-2 record on dirt this winter in Dubai. The problem for Surfer on Thursday is not one of surface, but distance, as his two recent wins both came over one mile, and it is questionable whether he really stays 9 1/2 furlongs. At 3-1 on the North American morning line, it might be worth guessing Surfer does not.

Cooptado could contend at more attractive odds. An Argentine import, Cooptado made his Dubai debut last spring, finishing fifth in Toast of New York’s UAE Derby, and he was back in December, comfortably winning a minor stakes going 1 1/4 miles on the Meydan dirt. Cooptado is an Argentine Group 1 winner over more than 1 1/2 miles, and his dirt record is an excellent 4-1-0 from 5 starts. His trainer, Doug Watson, is having a strong World Cup Carnival, and Cooptado is the pick to win.

The Al Maktoum challenge is race six of seven (race 1 is for purebred Arabians) on the card, post time 12:45 p.m. Eastern. The supporting feature, race 3, is the $250,000 UAE 1000 Guineas, which drew a field of only six 3-year-old fillies racing about one mile on dirt. Local Time, one of three Godolphin runners with Yodeling and Good Place, won the local Guineas prep last month by a mere nose over Ad Idem. Ad Idem, a Mike de Kock-trained South African import, has room to improve in her second run of the winter, but may be stretched trying to get one mile. Yodeling is intriguing as a dirt prospect as her sire is Medaglia d’Oro, but her form is difficult to read. She won her two starts, both on the Kempton all-weather track, but beat only two rivals in one of the races and three in the other.

Live streaming video and wagering on the Meydan card is available at DRF Bets.