03/25/2009 12:00AM

Desert Party looks the part

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DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Wednesday morning marked the annual Godolphin open house at the operation's training headquarters in Al Quoz. Parading in a line before the small training center grandstand is not a part of regular daily activity for the horses stabled here, and they definitely were not loving it. There was a lot of sweating, quite a bit of balking, and a general equine disinterest in showing off. But one horse among the final, highest-class group to be presented stood out - Desert Party. While older companions Gayego and Two Step Salsa acted up on either side of him, throwing off flecks of foamy lather, 3-year-old Desert Party stood calmly between them, not turning a hair.

If the colt is as fast as he is calm, an actual Kentucky Derby contender he may be. On the Kentucky Derby front, the UAE Derby on Saturday night might not tell much. Desert Party already has won twice this winter in Dubai, and in the Feb. 12 UAE 2000 Guineas he overwhelmed the opposition, winning by almost five lengths. But the horses he faces Saturday night at Nad Al Sheba will not be obviously superior to those he already has beaten here, and how Desert Party stacks up against the best of his generation back in the United States will remain an open question.

"He's going to be running against much better horses when we get to the next level," Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford said.

If he does what he should do Saturday and win the UAE Derby, Desert Party will ship to Churchill Downs in early April and train up to the Kentucky Derby there. He is Godolphin's main hope for the Derby now that Midshipman and Vineyard Haven, who were more highly regarded than Desert Party last fall, have gone by the wayside. Midshipman suffered a soft-tissue injury over the winter, but has returned to light training and will be pointed to a U.S. campaign during the season's second half. Vineyard Haven "did not do well as soon as we got here," Crisford said, and disappointed in his lone Dubai start.

"We made a mistake in running him," conceded Crisford, who said Vineyard Haven also would target a return to the races in the United States later this year.

Godolphin has two of the favorites for the Godolphin Mile on Saturday night, Gayego and Two Step Salsa, and both will be pointed to the Met Mile if they run well this weekend. But the main focus, in terms of dirt horses, is on Desert Party, who in addition to his relaxed demeanor made a highly favorable physical impression Wednesday.

"I saw him Sunday," said Eoin Harty, who trained Desert Party last year at 2. "He's filled out a lot, and he looks like he still has some filling out to do."

Some question Desert Party's baseline talent, since he failed to earn a high speed figure last year at 2, but the Street Cry colt hardly could have been sharper winning his career debut at Arlington going 4 1/2 furlongs from a highly disadvantageous outside post. He did not run fast winning the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga, but came through on the rail that day to score by more than three lengths on a muddy track.

"It wasn't the ideal situation for him that day," Harty said.

In the Sept. 1 Hopeful, Desert Party stumbled at the start, was pinched back, and never got involved in the race, finishing sixth. Harty took him to California with an eye on the Norfolk Stakes, but Desert Party developed inflammation in the top of a joint, and Harty pulled the plug. Desert Party appears to have come back stronger from his winter break - but just how strong won't be known till he comes back to the United States.

Jara returning to ride in United States

Fernando Jara, who hasn't ridden in the United States since November 2007, plans to move his tack back to the U.S. for the Arlington Park meeting in early May, he said Wednesday night.

Jara, 21, won the Dubai World Cup for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin on Invasor in 2007, but he struggled to maintain his business. He left for his native Panama late in 2007 and took three months off before riding with success there. Jara said McLaughlin phoned him last year and asked if he was interested in riding in Dubai this winter. Jara jumped at the chance. He was the stable rider for trainer Doug Watson, a former McLaughlin assistant, in races at United Arab Emirates tracks beginning last November.

Jockey agent Dennis Cooper recently phoned Watson seeking to get in touch with Jara, the jockey said. Cooper and Jara spoke and worked out a plan to bring the rider to Arlington. Cooper also represents Panama native Rene Douglas, who has led the Arlington standings every year he has ridden at the suburban Chicago track. Douglas will summer there again this year.

Draw for World Cup undercard

Desert Party was one of 13 horses entered in the UAE Derby and drew post 5 for the race, run over about 1 1/8 miles on dirt. U.S. export Jose Adan has post 10.

Saturday night's smallest field is in the six-furlong, straight-course Golden Shaheen, in which Indian Blessing will be heavily favored. Indian Blessing drew post 12 for the race and will start nearest the outside fence.

Fifteen were entered in the Godolphin Mile, with one Godolphin favorite, Two Step Salsa, inside in post 4, and another, Gayego, outside in post 13. Informed, the lone American, drew post 11.

* Mike de Kock-trained Honour Devil was withdrawn from the World Cup early this week when he was found to have an entrapped epiglottis that hindered his ability to breath during strenuous exercise. Surgery was performed to correct the problem.