03/04/2009 1:00AM

Even lacking champ, card has star potential


Nad Al Sheba's Super Thursday, aka Dubai World Cup Preview Night, features course-and-distance preps for all six of the big races on the March 28 World Cup card, but it will be not quite as super as expected because of the absence of the Godolphin-owned Eclipse Award 2-year-old champion Midshipman, and the stable's leading World Cup hope, My Indy.

Still, Thursday's eight-race, $1.4 million program is loaded with potential World Cup Night winners, with the Group 2, $250,000 Jebel Hatta, a trial for the Dubai Duty Free, especially intriguing.

The 1 1/8-mile turf race is headed by the defending Duty Free title-holder, Jay Peg. Trained by Mike de Kock, Jay Peg flopped in his seasonal debut, finishing a distant fourth to the progressive Gladiatorus in a 7 1/2-furlong handicap on Jan. 22 when he was spotting his rivals six to 15 pounds. On Thursday, he will cede 15 foes up to five pounds, but in Vodka he may once again meet his match. A versatile Japanese filly, Vodka won the 1 1/4-mile Autumn Tenno Sho last fall before finishing a close third in the 1 1/2-mile Japan Cup on Nov. 30. Her June victory in the one-mile Yasuda Kinen suggests the Jebel Hatta distance will pose no problem.

Vertigineux was a game second last week in the Group 3 Zabeel Mile and would be no surprise, while Balius has been second to Eagle Mountain and Archipenko in Group 1 races during the past year.

My Indy won the first two rounds of the Maktoum Challenge but will skip Thursday's Group 2, $300,000 Round 3 and head straight to the World Cup. Thursday's 1 1/4-mile contest includes last year's World Cup runner-up, Asiatic Boy, who was only third in Round 2 but who should benefit from that effort. Happy Boy was second in Round 2 but has been inconsistent since winning the UAE Derby in 2007. Godolphin will experiment with turf specialist Kirklees, who will make his dirt debut off an impressive 3 1/4-length score in a 1 1/4-mile turf handicap. The Breeders' Cup Marathon winner Muhannak will return from a three-month absence since finishing seventh in the Hong Kong Vase, while the Iowa Derby winner Tiz Now Tiz Then has place possibilities off his game second in a one-mile allowance of a four-month layoff.

Two-time Group 1 winner Quijano returns from a four-month winter vacation to defend his title in the Group 2, $250,000 Dubai City of Gold, a 1 1/2-mile prep for the Dubai Sheema Classic. A German-bred 7-year-old, he will be challenged by Royal Ascot Group 2 winner Macarthur and by Purple Moon, who was a nose second last time to Doctor Dino in the Hong Kong Vase. The dangerous South African filly Front House returns to her best distance after a pair of seconds going shorter in Group 3 company.

Many still consider Honour Devil, the de Kock-trained winner of last year's UAE Derby, to be the best local hope for the Dubai World Cup, but he must redeem himself after a dull third behind Dijeer and Tiz Now Tiz Then in his seasonal debut three weeks ago. He will go in the $200,000, Group 3 Burj Nahaar - ostensibly a prep for the Godolphin Mile - in which he will be tested by last year's Godolphin Mile third, Don Renato, and perhaps by Jalil, the winner of last year's Maktoum Challenge, Round 3, for Godolphin. Jalil flopped in his first start for new trainer Mubarak bin Shafya when he was 12th in a 1 1/8-mile handicap two weeks ago.

Godolphin is pinning its hopes for the Dubai Golden Shaheen on Diabolical, a 6-year-old son of Artax. Second in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, he will defend his title in the $200,000 Mahab Al Shimaal, a six-furlong dirt dash in which he may be topped by the in-form Big City Man. A two-time stakes winner at Calder when trained by Jose Pinchin, Big City Man is 2 for 2 at Nad Al Sheba for Jerry Barton, his most recent win coming in the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint.

The absence of the injured Midshipman from the listed $250,000 Al Bastakiya is a blow for Godolphin, which still has Desert Party aimed at the UAE Derby on March 28. In his place, Saeed bin Suroor will saddle Jose Adan, the disqualified winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity who was a dull sixth in a turf allowance on Feb. 12. The UAE 1000 Guineas winner So Shiny will face males off her fourth in the UAE Oaks, but this ho-hum 1 1/8-mile race could fall to the Barton-trained Medici, the December winner of the 1 3/8-mile Chilean St. Leger.

In what amounts to an early prep for the 2000 Guineas, Godolphin will send out City Style in the 7 1/2-furlong Meydan Classic. Fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf for Cheryl Asmussen, City Style impressed in his Dubai debut, winning a 6 1/2-furlong allowance by 2 3/4 lengths.