02/12/2013 4:59PM

Dubai: Soft Falling Rain tough in UAE 2000 Guineas

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Daddy Long Legs returns to Meydan’s synthetic track in the Group 3, $200,000 Firebreak over about one mile.

One cool part of racing at Meydan in Dubai is the matching of horses from different corners of the globe, and just such a pairing comes Thursday in the Group 3, $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas, where the South African colt Soft Falling Rain faces Fortify, who was among the better U.S.-based 2-year-olds of 2012.

[DUBAI RACING: Watch Thursday's Meydan card live, bet with DRF Bets]

American pride, however, should prepare to be wounded. Fortify will be making his first start in Dubai, first start on a synthetic racing surface, and first start since Nov. 3, when he finished a respectable fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Soft Falling Rain already has turned in an eye-catching performance at Meydan, winning the UAE Guineas Trial on Jan. 17. Bred on Southern Hemisphere time, Soft Falling Rain is about five months older than Fortify. He also never has lost, with four 2012 wins in South Africa preceding his impressive Dubai debut.

Proven Dubai success is a running theme on Thursday’s six-race program. In the Firebreak Stakes, Daddy Long Legs makes his first start in Dubai since winning the UAE Derby on the 2012 World Cup card. The Al Shindagha Sprint includes Krypton Factor, who captured the Group 1 Golden Shaheen last March.

Trainer Michael de Kock has said Soft Falling Rain – owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum – could improve from his run in the Guineas Trial, and such forward movement would make him very difficult to beat. In the seven-furlong Trial, Soft Falling Rain showed good cruising speed taking an early lead and easily kicking away from 13 foes to score by 2 1/2 lengths. Skeptics have one hook on which to hang their doubt: The Guineas’ one-mile distance. Soft Falling Rain only sprinted in South Africa, and de Kock already has said the 1 1/8 miles of the UAE Derby would stretch Soft Falling Rain.

Fortify stays the one-mile distance, but has other questions to answer in his first start for trainer Mahmood al Zarooni. Under Kiaran McLaughlin’s care last year, Fortify won his debut at Saratoga and acquitted himself admirably in three stakes losses to 2-year-old champion Shanghai Bobby.

De Kock also mans the helm now with Daddy Long Legs, a 4-year-old campaigned until this winter by Aidan O’Brien. Daddy Long Legs’s 3-year-old season soured after his UAE Derby win. He was eased in the Kentucky Derby, finished a distant fourth in the Irish 2000 Guineas, came home eighth in a return trip in the Secretariat at Arlington, and clunked home last of six in the Irish Champion Stakes. The key common thread in that skein of losses might be racing surface: Daddy Long Legs’s peak came on Meydan’s synthetic track, and he should appreciate returning to it in the Group 3, $200,000 Firebreak over about one mile.

Among Daddy Long Legs’s opponents are three Godolphin runners, Barbecue Eddie, Out of Bounds, and Fulbright Scholar, who respectively swept the top three places in Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge on Jan. 31. Out of Bounds, knocked off the 2012 Triple Crown trail by injury when trained by Eoin Harty, stands the best chance to improve.

Krypton Factor hasn’t raced since finishing sixth behind Black Caviar in the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee in June. He was the star sprinter of the 2012 Meydan meeting, winning two stakes before defeating Rocket Man in the Group 1 Golden Shaheen, but victory Thursday in the Group 3, $200,000 Al Shindagha is far from assured following an extended vacation and with more important races coming soon. Among his 13 opponents is Mental, a Group 1-winning Australian sprinter making his first start in the Northern Hemisphere.