01/03/2017 6:16PM

Dubai World Cup Carnival starts with Round 1 of Al Maktoum Challenge

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The 11-meeting 2017 Dubai World Cup Carnival starts Thursday night at Meydan Racecourse, where Round 1 of the Al Maktoum Challenge headlines a seven-race card.

There are Carnival cards every Thursday night at Meydan this week through Feb. 23, followed by the Super Saturday program on March 4 and the Dubai World Cup card three weeks later, on March 25. That program includes the $10 million World Cup, won in exciting fashion last year by California Chrome, as well as a pair of $6 million turf races, the Dubai Turf and the Sheema Classic.

California Chrome is not expected to make his third trip to Dubai since he is scheduled to be retired to stud following the Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 28, but the horse that beat him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Arrogate, is a leading early contender for this year’s race.

One of the better 2016 2-year-olds in North America, Klimt, could show up in Dubai as early as next month for new trainer Art Sherman, with the UAE 2000 Guineas on Feb. 11 under consideration for a seasonal starting point.

The American expatriate sprinter Wild Dude is based in Dubai now with trainer Michael Halford and has the Golden Shaheen on the World Cup card as a long-range target.

Veteran Dubai trainer Mike de Kock has 30 horses readied for Carnival action, including nine entrants in Thursday’s six races for Thoroughbreds. The de Kock string includes the talented South African import Noah from Goa, a middle-distance grass horse not expected to make his Dubai debut before mid-Carnival; and Mubtaahij, the 2016 World Cup runner-up back with de Kock following an American campaign last summer.

Doug Watson’s dirt horses ran wild last winter at the Carnival, and Watson is well represented on Thursday’s card. Among his entrants is Polar River, the 4-year-old filly who became one of the best-known horses in Dubai last season when she won the listed UAE 1000 Guineas by 13 lengths and who starts Thursday night in the Group 2 Maktoum Challenge Round 1.

Polar River won the Group 3 UAE  Oaks over the good filly Vale Dori before finishing second to the talented Japanese colt Lani in the UAE Derby, part of the World Cup undercard. That was it for Polar River until Nov. 17, when she finished a fairly flat fourth to apparently inferior rivals in a 1,600-meter dirt race at Meydan, but Polar River, who gets a break in the weights as a filly facing males, can be expected to improve considerably going the same distance in the Maktoum Challenge.

Among her rivals is Le Bernardin, who won the 2015 edition of this race for trainer Ali al Rahi and was a solid early-Carnival performer two winters ago.

Trainer Charlie Appleby and Godolphin start an interesting Dubai debuter named Emotionless, a 4-year-old colt by Sharmardal, whose offspring sometimes handle dirt, and out of the excellent American race-mare Unbridled Elaine. Emotionless was a Group 1 winner at age 2 but managed only two starts last season as a 3-year-old.

De Kock also has a horse making his first start in Dubai, Lindo Amor, but unlike Emotionless, the 4-year-old South American import has plenty of dirt experience, though his best finish, a second at the Group 1 level, came over a longer 2,000-meter distance.

In Saltarin Dubai, De Kock might have an even better South American import entered in race 3, a dirt handicap to be contested at about 9 1/2 furlongs. Saltarin Dubai was a Group 1 winner over 1 1/4 miles on dirt in Argentina last year.

The Thursday card starts with a purebred Arabian race, with first post scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Eastern. The featured fifth goes at 11:50 Eastern. Live video coverage and wagering are available at DRF Bets.