01/06/2015 2:28PM

Dubai World Cup Carnival opens with new dirt track

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The Dubai World Cup Carnival is back Thursday with the first of 10 cards this winter and spring, and equally important, dirt is back as the main-track surface at Dubai’s major racing center.

When glittery, massive Meydan Racecourse opened in 2010, it featured an all-weather main track, but after five seasons of racing, the Tapeta surface was removed last spring and replaced with a dirt track. The old track at Nad Al Sheba, which hosted the first 14 editions of the Dubai World Cup, had a dirt main track, and the $10 million World Cup on March 28 will be contested on dirt for the first time since Well Armed won the race in 2009.

Well Armed became the eighth American-trained World Cup winner, but a once-formidable U.S. presence at the World Cup meeting dwindled to nearly nothing by 2014, that despite the fact that the U.S.-based Animal Kingdom won the 2013 World Cup. The new dirt track at Meydan, however, should immediately induce a significant U.S. presence for the big races at the end of March.

For the time being, however, it is Dubai-based runners filling out the races on Thursday’s first Carnival program, which features Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge, a $250,000 race over about one mile on the new dirt track.

:: DUBAI WORLD CUP CARNIVAL: Get PPs, watch Thursday’s Meydan card live

Surfer looks very much the one to beat in the Maktoum Challenge. A World Cup Carnival regular the last two years, Surfer finished a decent second to Hunter’s Light last season in the Maktoum Challenge Round 2, but that all-weather race over 9 1/2 furlongs suited Surfer less than Thursday’s shorter dirt run.

Surfer probably is at his best racing one mile, and the American-bred son of Distorted Humor is the race’s best dirt winner, having beaten several of his Thursday rivals Dec. 18 at Meydan in the listed Dubai Creek Mile. Ennobled Friend, who set the pace and held second in the Dec. 18 race, is back Thursday, while Outstrip, a turf horse to date, is the highest-rated runner among 15 entrants.

The Thursday feature goes as race 6 of seven on a card that starts at 9:45 a.m. Eastern. The supporting feature is race 5, the $150,000 Singspiel over about nine furlongs on turf.