01/08/2013 5:31PM

Dubai Winter Carnival opens with a different look

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Barbara D. Livingston
Animal Kingdom is being pointed for the $10 million Dubai World Cup.

The Dubai Winter Carnival begins Thursday night, and this being Year 4 of Meydan, the glamour racing palace rising from the Dubai desert no longer shocks with opulence quite the way it did in 2010. But even as the return of racing to Meydan has become routine, there are changes afoot at the Winter Carnival.

Frankie Dettori, the runaway leading Dubai World Cup meeting rider and a regular fixture throughout the Carnival, split with Godolphin last fall and is under a suspension lasting until May resulting from a positive test in France for a prohibited substance. In Dettori’s absence, Mickael Barzalona, Silvestre DeSousa, and Ahmed Ajtebi will ride for Godolphin, which won the 2012 World Cup with Monterosso.

Closer to home, U.S.-based horses might finally make an impact on a Dubai World Cup card at Meydan after flopping in recent seasons. The prospective American contingent for World Cup races would be the strongest since Meydan opened if it holds together. Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom is targeting the $10 million World Cup, a race that also could include Dullahan, a synthetic-surface star whose talents might be well suited to the Tapeta track at Meydan, and champion Royal Delta, a troubled ninth in the 2012 World Cup. Both Dullahan and his stablemate Little Mike are scheduled to have prep races for World Cup Night starts in March 9 races at Meydan, with Little Mike pointing to one of the two major turf races on the World Cup program, the Sheema Classic or the Duty Free. Point of Entry, narrowly beaten by Little Mike in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, remains a candidate for the Sheema Classic.

The string of trainer Mike de Kock, always a central figure in Carnival racing, includes three high-class horses trained during 2012 by Aidan O’Brien: Await the Dawn, Treasure Beach, and Daddy Long Legs. Await the Dawn might be ready to run sometime next month, while Treasure Beach, most recently 10th in the BC Turf, and Daddy Long Legs, who won the 2012 UAE Derby at Meydan, might not start until the Super Saturday program on March 9.

Also in de Kock’s yard is the star South African filly Igugu, who is set to showcase her talents outside South Africa for the first time this winter. Igugu could see her first action of the winter on Feb. 21 in the Balanchine Stakes.

Headlining Thursday’s seven-race program is Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, a Tapeta race contested over about one mile and around one turn. The 10 entrants include names familiar to American racing followers, chief among them Out of Bounds, who is set to make his first start since winning the Sham Stakes last January over Secret Circle. Trained then by Eoin Harty, Out of Bounds now resides in the yard of trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

Also in the race is Tajaaweed, who won the 2011 Arlington Handicap for trainer Dan Peitz and who makes his first start since February.

The horse to beat, however, appears to be Fulbright, who will have Barazalona in the irons for trainer Mahmood al Zarooni. Four-year-old Fulbright, making his first start in Dubai, has won eight of 20 races and captured the Group 2 Dubai Challenge Stakes when last seen in October at Newmarket.

Transplanted American Arthur’s Tale makes his first Dubai start for Al Zarooni in the card’s fourth race, a 1 3/16-mile handicap on Tapeta.

Race 3 is a good handicap contested at about five furlongs down the straight part of the Meydan turf course and should yield runners for turf-sprint stakes later this winter.