02/11/2003 1:00AM

Big Dubai race card Thursday

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Moon Ballad will use Round 2 of the Maktoum Challenge, a 1 1/8-mile Group 3 contest, as a test for the Dubai World Cup Thursday night at Nad Al Sheba, where six Godolphin nominees to the Triple Crown will also line up for the UAE 2000 Guineas.

A 4-year-old son of 1997 World Cup winner Singspiel, the Godolphin-owned Moon Ballad appears to have a class edge over his main rivals Estimraar and State Shinto, who finished one-two in Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge three weeks ago. A Group 2 and a Group 3 winner in England last year, Moon Ballad was a 6-1/4-length winner of a dirt allowance at Nad Al Sheba last winter prior to finishing fourth in the UAE Derby.

Frankie Dettori will be aboard while Aaron Gryder is back in Dubai to partner the Saudi-based Jerry Barton-trained Go Underground, upon whom he finished a fast closing fourth in Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge.

With Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager set for this weekend, the UAE 2000 Guineas takes on added importance in American eyes. A one-mile "prestige race" on dirt, the Guineas serves as a prep for the 1 1/4-mile UAE Derby, which will be run on Dubai World Cup night March 29.

Godolphin's first string in the Guineas will be Dettori's mount Bourbonnais. Like Moon Ballad a son of Singspiel, he was trained in England last year by Mark Johnston, for whom he won the listed Acomb Stakes. Like the five other Godolphin runners, he will be making his 3-year-old debut.

One of those, Dublin, beat Bourbonnais by 1-1/4 lengths in the Group 3 Vintage Stakes, after which he finished a close third behind Refuse To Bend and Van Nistelrooy in the Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh. The Carson City colt had begun his career with a victory on dirt at Wolverhampton last July.

Dubai Lightning is a Lingfield maiden winner on dirt while Western Diplomat landed his only start at Ayr by seven lengths. Sharp Impact won an ungraded stake at Arlington for Eoin Harty while Endemaj took a Bay Meadows maiden in his second start. Two Southern Hemisphere 3-year-olds, Victory Moon from South Africa and West Point Thoroughbreds Argentine-bred Seattle Fitz, loom as spoilers to Godolphin's early Kentucky Derby plans.