03/14/2008 12:00AM

Godolphin geared up for World Cup Night

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NEW YORK - On the face of it, the crowning of Saeed bin Suroor as the leading trainer at this winter's Dubai Racing Carnival should come as no surprise, since Godolphin is the key cog in the wheel that drives racing at Nad Al Sheba.

In actuality, however, it is unprecedented. In recent years Godolphin has had only a large handful of runners at Nad Al Sheba in the run-up to Dubai World Cup Night. This season, Suroor has saddled 24 winners at the 10 Dubai Racing Carnival meetings, outdistancing his nearest rival, Mike de Kock, who has 14 winners.

Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford swears that there is no overt change in policy.

"We acquired a number of horses for the Carnival," he said on Thursday, "and had many of our own ready to run as well. There's no change in policy, it just happens that we've got horses that fit well into the Carnival scheme."

Some of those horses are expected to make a splash on World Cup Night, March 29, and beyond. Perhaps the most talked about horse in Dubai this winter outside of Curlin is Jalil, the $9.7 million Keeneland yearling who has blossomed into a potential star after disappointing at 2 and 3 in England the last two years.

"Jalil was a big, backward horse," Crisford said. "We gave him a long time off in the middle of last year to fill in his frame, and the wait has paid dividends."

Indeed, Jalil, a Storm Cat full brother to two-time Grade 1 turf winner After Market, has been perfect on the Nad Al Sheba dirt this year, winning all three of his starts, the last two at the Wold Cup distance of 1 1/4 miles. On Marcho6, he threw down a challenge to Curlin by winning the Group 2 Maktoum Challenge in a time 0.25 of a second faster than it took the American champion to win the Jaguar Trophy Handicap a week earlier.

Jalil will have to improve again to offer Curlin a serious test, but Godolphin could have another first-rate World Cup challenger in Literato. A 10-furlong specialist and the winner of last fall's Group 1 Champion Stakes at Newmarket, Literato is being considered for the world's richest race, but is also under consideration for the 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic and the 1 1/8-mile Dubai Duty Free.

Another Godolphin horse, the Brazilian-bred Happy Boy, winner of the one-mile Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge by nine lengths over Gloria de Campeao, will go in the World Cup, and it is noteworthy that Jalil has beaten Gloria de Campeao by just 2 1/2 lengths and 1o1/2 lengths in his two most recent victories.

Godolphin's plans for the Dubai Duty Free ran into a hitch when four-time Group 1 winner Ramonti was sidelined.

"He's suffering from an infection in his hind leg," Crisford said. "He's missed a couple of days' work and won't be back until the middle of next week. He's 50-50 for the Duty Free."

Suroor, however, still has his dual Guineas runner-up and Hong Kong Mile second Creachadoir slated for the Duty Free, as well as French Oaks winner West Wind.

The American posse that usually captures the Dubai Golden Shaheen may be in for a bit of trouble this year. Godolphin appears to be in the driver's seat with the ex-Steve Klesaris-trained Diabolical. A 5-year-old son of Artax, Diabolical cruised to a 4 1/2-length victory in the Group 3 course and distance prep for the Golden Shaheen last week and has taken to the Nad Al Sheba straight course like a fish to water.

Sheikh Mohammed's lifelong ambition to win the Kentucky Derby seems to have become a secondary consideration. Godolphin has not had a runner in the Run for the Roses since 2002 when Essence of Dubai finished ninth, and chances of seeing the Godolphin colors in the Derby this year look slim. Godolphin's Nashua Stakes winner Etched was a distant fourth in the UAE 2000 Guineas, a race in which its Derby eligible Numaany was fifth. Numaany has since been a close third in the Al Rashidiya Stakes and will join Etched in the UAE Derby on World Cup Night.

Godolphin will have a more intriguing UAE Derby entry in Cocoa Beach. The Chilean-bred filly, a Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old who is technically a 4-year-old on the Northern Hemisphere calendar, Cocoa Beach won the UAE 1000 Guineas and the UAE Oaks by a combined 11 1/4 lengths. After the UAE Derby, she will travel to Belmont Park to join the Godolphin contingent there, which could also include Jalil and their hot Godolphin Mile candidate Elusive Warning.

With so much controversy surrounding the glut of new artificial surfaces in the United States, Godolphin is preparing itself for the brave new American world, having installed Michael Dickinson's Tapeta surface at its Al Quoz training center.

"The more Polytrack racing in America, the better it is for us," Crisford quipped.

Could that be a warning that Godolphin will be targeting the next two Breeders' Cups at Santa Anita with more than its usual attack force? Could be - that is, if Santa Anita still has a synthetic surface come Oct. 24-25.