01/16/2007 12:00AM

Dubai World Cup preps begin

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The countdown to Dubai World Cup Night begins at Nad Al Sheba on Thursday when the Dubai International Racing Carnival kicks off with Round 1 of the $200,000 Maktoum Challenge.

The Group 3 mile is the highlight of an eight-race card worth $900,000, but it is unlikely to produce a serious candidate for the $6 million Dubai World Cup on March 31.

Grand Emporium won this race in 2005 on his way to victory in the Godolphin Mile the same year. He returns Thursday but has been off form for a year. His trainer, Satish Seemar, may have a better chance with a pair of recent course and distance allowance winners in Blue on Blues and Parole Board.

Several foreign imports with group race credentials on turf, however, all pose a threat in the 16-runner field.

The Brazilian-bred and trained Bandido Secreto is a Group 1 mile winner at home. Golden Arrow, now with Ismael Mohammed, was good enough to be fifth in the Irish 2000 Guineas last May. The Clive Brittain-trained Hattan was second in the one-mile Group 1 Premio Roma in November before taking a 1o3/16-mile allowance on Polytrack on Jan. 5.

But, as one might expect at Nad Al Sheba, it is the Godolphin entry, Notability, who holds the key to the race.

Trained until recently by Michael Jarvis for Sheikh Mohammed, the 5-year-old Notability is now with Saeed bin Suroor at Godolphin's Al Quoz training center. He won the one-mile Group 2 Oettingin-Rennen at Baden-Baden in August and displayed an aptitude for Polytrack when third in Lingfield's Group 3 Summer Mile in August.

Waiting in the wings for a possible date in either Round 2 or 3 of the Maktoum Challenge is Discreet Cat, but Godolphin is playing it cagey with the Cigar Mile winner by nominating him not only to the Dubai World Cup, but to the Godolphin Mile and the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen as well.