02/12/2008 12:00AM

Etched gets first Derby prep

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Etched, Godolphin's leading hope for the Kentucky Derby, embarks on the long road to Churchill Downs on Thursday night at Nad Al Sheba, where he will face 15 foes in the Group 3, $250,000 UAE 2000 Guineas.

Bred by Darley Stud, Etched carried the Darley colors at 2 while trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, and won both his starts by a combined 13 1 /4 lengths, the second a 6 1/2-length romp in Aqueduct's Grade 3 Nashua Stakes over subsequent Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club winner Anak Nakal. Sheik Mohammed then switched Etched from Darley to Godolphin and sent him to Dubai under the care of Saeed bin Suroor.

Etched was pegged at 26-1 in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager, making him the 11th choice among the 23 named horses on the list.

Suroor has been aiming Etched at the one-mile UAE 2000 Guineas since the Forestry colt's arrival in Dubai two months ago. Suroor has been the hot trainer of late in the UAE, having won 13 of the 33 Thoroughbred races run at the Dubai Racing Carnival's five Nad Al Sheba meetings this winter.

The task facing Etched, who will break from post 4 under Frankie Dettori, is hardly a straightforward one. Chief among his rivals is the Mike de Kock-trained Honour Devil. An Argentine-bred Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old who will carry 130 pounds compared with Etched's 121, Honour Devil followed up his debut Argentine maiden score with an impressive 5 1/4-length victory in a seven-furlong allowance on Jan. 24 at Nad Al Sheba. Johnny Murtagh retains the mount.

Another Godolphin runner, My Indy, and the Team Valor-owned Aquino, second and third to Honour Devil last month, will test him again. They will be joined by Numaany, an Aqueduct maiden winner for Darley and Tom Albertrani on Nov. 2 who is now also with Godolphin, and Ablaan, a two-time winner for de Kock on the Nad Al Sheba dirt this winter. De Kock will also saddle the dangerous Royal Vintage, the winner of both of his starts in South Africa, the latest a Group 2 tally on turf in Greyville's seven-furlong Umkhomazi Stakes on June 2.

Post time for the UAE 2000 Guineas is 1 p.m. Eastern.