01/18/2005 12:00AM

Dubai series gets going

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The Dubai International Racing Carnival, culminating on March 26 with the Dubai World Cup, gets under way at Nad Al Sheba on Thursday night with the initial World Cup prep, the one-mile, Group 3 Maktoum Challenge-Round 1.

The $200,000 Challenge has drawn a field of 13, including horses from Britain, South Africa, and Turkey. The Emirates Racing Association's handicapper rates Wolf Whistle highest of them all at 113. A Group 1 winner going 1 1/4 miles on turf in his native South Africa, Wolf Whistle is trained by Mike de Kock, who engineered the triumphs of Victory Moon in Round 2 and Round 3 of last year's Maktoum Challenge series.

Wolf Whistle will be opposed by the winners of the last two runnings of this race, State Shinto and Estimraar, but a bigger threat is posed by Tropical Star. Second to Firebreak in last year's Group 2 Godolphin Mile over the Challenge course and distance, Tropical Star began the new season with a five-length romp in the six-furlong Al Shindagha Sprint and looks like the one to beat.

A total of 989 horses from 21 countries have been nominated to the seven races worth $15.25 million on Dubai World Cup night. Among the 145 nominated to the $6 million Dubai World Cup itself are the Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up, Roses in May, and recent Malibu Stakes winner Rock Hard Ten.