03/07/2013 5:59PM

Dubai: Dullahan, Little Mike prep for World Cup on Super Saturday card

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Tom Keyser
Dullahan has not started since the Breeders’ Cup Turf in November.

The so-called Super Saturday card at Meydan lives up to its name this year, with excellent horses scattered across seven fascinating and competitive Thoroughbred stakes. But there is very large wrinkle in the proceedings: The Dubai World Cup card, with its enormous purses and prestige, looms on March 30, and no one with a truly top-class runner wants them peaking now.

[DUBAI SUPER SATURDAY: Get PPs, watch Saturday's Meydan card live]

That consideration applies to the three most important contestants on the Super Saturday card, American invaders Little Mike and Dullahan, and 2012 Dubai World Cup winner Monterosso. Dullahan brings a 3-for-3 synthetic-surface record into the Group 3, $200,000 Burj Nahaar Stakes, but those three all-weather wins came around two turns in races longer than the Burj Nahaar’s one-turn-mile trip. Dullahan might go out and win anyway, but clearly the goal is to shake off rust in his first start since the Breeders’ Cup Turf and get to the $10 million Dubai World Cup the right way.

The circumstances are similar with Monterosso, who raced – with no success – once over the summer in England but otherwise has not run since his three-length World Cup victory almost a year ago. Trainer Mahmood al Zarooni used a fourth-place finish in the Group 1, $400,000 Al Maktoum Challenge Round 3 as a springboard to the World Cup score, and here is Monterosso in the same spot again.

Among his rivals in Round 3 of the Challenge, which is contested at the same distance (about 1 1/4 miles) as the World Cup, is Little Mike. Little Mike and Dullahan, both trained by Dale Romans, arrived in Dubai last weekend and have gotten a feel for the Tapeta main track there since clearing quarantine, but Little Mike’s multiple Grade 1 success has come on turf, and he will be making his first synthetic-surface start Saturday night. A good showing would land Little Mike in the World Cup starting gate, but he also has two turf options, the Duty Free and the Sheema Classic, on World Cup Night.

Anyone wagering on the Super Saturday card – widely available to North American bettors, with the first Thoroughbred stakes scheduled to go off at 8:05 a.m. Eastern, the Maktoum Challenge at 11 – should keep firmly in mind the difference between horses for which Super Saturday represents a goal rather than a means to an end. In the Maktoum Challenge, that horse could be Hunter’s Light. Like Monterosso, Hunter’s Light is a Godolphin runner, but unlike Monterosso, Hunter’s Light is unproven against top-class competition. He might well earn his way to the World Cup, but a dominating victory Feb. 7 in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2 could have Hunter’s Light set up to be a Super Saturday hero.

The Challenge also includes the Japanese horse Trailblazer, who finished fourth behind Little Mike in the Breeders’ Cup Turf last fall, and a pair of Mike de Kock-trained runners familiar to American fans, Treasure Beach and Daddy Long Legs. Kassiano carries a three-race Meydan winning streak but is facing far stronger foes than he has beaten. Prince Bishop could lead a long way if allowed to dawdle on the front end.

De Kock holds a stronger hand in other races on the card. He has three top contenders for the Group 1, $300,000 Jebel Hatta, a turf race over about 1 1/8 miles that serves as a prep for the Dubai Duty Free. Master of Hounds was a decent second Feb. 21 in the Al Fahidi Fort, but De Kock’s pair of South African imports, The Apache and Igugu, have stronger chances. Igugu, a superstar back home, could finish only third in the Feb. 21 Balanchine, her Dubai debut but was done in by contesting a sizzling pace that night, tiring in her first start in more than a year.

“She obviously needed her last run,” de Kock said. “This has always been the mission with her, the Jebel Hatta and the Duty Free. . . . It hasn’t been an easy preparation with her. She didn’t travel well. But she has improved, and I think she will improve more from this race.”

The Apache returned from a year-plus layoff with a win in the Al Rashidiya on Jan. 31 and also should come forward from that performance, de Kock said. The talented Godolphin trio of Sharestan, Sajjhaa, and City Style lend still more depth to the Jebel Hatta field.

De Kock suggested his best hope on the night lies with Await the Dawn, one of nine runners in the Group 2, $250,000 City of Gold, a turf race over about 1 1/2 miles. While long-layoff comeback runners like Masterstroke and Jakkalberry are almost certainly using the City of Gold as a prep for World Cup Night races, Await the Dawn already has notched an eye-catching win at Meydan this winter in a 10-furlong handicap last month.

“This horse has been a revelation,” de Kock said. “He’s done very well here.”

In the Group 3, $200,000 Mahab al Shimaal, a main-track sprint, defending champion Krypton Factor should be difficult to beat with a comeback race under his belt. The winner of the 2012 Golden Shaheen, he will be heavily favored to beat nine rivals. In the $175,000 Meydan Sprint, a five-furlong straight-course turf sprint, watch out for the de Kock-trained Shea Shea, who is ready to improve in his second start this winter. The $250,000 Al Bastikiya, the stepping-stone to the UAE Derby, looks like Godolphin’s race for the taking. Snowboarder, I’m Back, and Secret Number all are in with a chance.