03/31/2003 12:00AM

Great night for home team in Dubai


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - In a blissful setting that's like a cross between Royal Ascot and an Arab street fair, Godolphin's home team grabbed three of the six big races on Nad Al Sheba's $15.25 million Dubai World Cup card Saturday night.

Moon Ballad, Sulamani, and Firebreak were the Godolphin winners, while South Africa thrust itself into the international big time with the victories of Ipi Tombe and Victory Moon.

State City, technically owned by a daughter of Sheikh Mohammed who races under the acronym of SMRM, won the Dubai Golden Shaheen, so the final score might as well be Godolphin 4, South Africa 2. State City will now join Godolphin's stable at Belmont Park.

Moon Ballad turned out to be everything Godolphin had hoped in his first genuine test on dirt, the $6 million, 1 1/4-mile Dubai World Cup. Frankie Dettori put Moon Ballad, a son of 1997 Dubai World Cup winner Singspiel, in front after a half-mile, forcing John Velazquez to chase aboard Harlan's Holiday sooner than he would have liked. Harlan's Holiday came home a game second but he was never going to catch Moon Ballad, who was a five-length winner. The winning time of 2:00.48 was the second fastest in eight World Cups, slower only than Dubai Millennium's 1:59.50 in 2000.

Nayef and Grandera were a length and a short head behind Harlan's Holiday in third and fourth, respectively. Both will be returned to turf, but Moon Ballad's ultimate objective will be the Breeders' Cup Classic. According to Simon Crisford, the Godolphin racing manager, Moon Ballad could well appear in America before then. In the meantime, he will be campaigned on turf in Europe with the one-mile Sussex Stakes at Goodwood on July 30 a possibility.

Trainer Todd Pletcher is pointing Harlan's Holiday, who will fly back to New York on Thursday, to the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

Sulamani was the evening's most impressive winner, coming from well out of it to take the $2 million, 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic on turf. A 4-year-old son of Hernando, Sulamani was still eight lengths behind Ange Gabriel at the quarter pole, and for a moment it appeared as if his rider, Dettori, had given him too much to do. Sulamani, however, charged like a runaway freight train to score by three- quarters of a length, stopping the clock in a course record 2:27.67. He had 11 group race winners behind him - an excellent performance in his first run since he finished second in the Arc on Oct. 6.

Firebreak, the third of Dettori's three winners on the night, denied Grey Memo a second successive win in the $1 million Godolphin Mile. Firebreak, a nose behind Essence of Dubai in last year's UAE 2000 Guineas over the course and distance, led at the quarter pole and held well, getting the mile in 1:36.20. Kent Desormeaux had to bring Grey Memo eight wide into the long stretch but his horse still got up for third ahead of Cayoke. Three other Americans - Mr. John, Lusty Latin, and Easyfromthegitgo - finished sixth, eighth, and 11th.

State City, 60-1 in America, ran down the game Avanzado to deny an American-trained horse a fourth consecutive victory in the $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen at six furlongs on a straightaway. Avanzado's task had looked easier with the withdrawal on Friday of Xtra Heat, who injured an ankle in a stall accident. He looked like the winner at the furlong pole, but State City came from the center of the track under Michael Hills to lead late. A second American, Captain Squire, was third, and My Cousin Matt was up for fifth after a slow start.

The sensational Ipi Tombe overcame innumerable difficulties to slam 11 accomplished male rivals in the 1 1/8-mile, $2 million Dubai Duty Free on turf by three lengths. Ipi Tombe, a Zimbabwean-bred, South African-trained mare, was given a couple of knocks early, then was bumped by runner-up Paolini as they both made their moves.

Ipi Tombe then had to withstand a claim of foul by Paolini's rider, Andrea Suborics. Her time of 1:47.61 was a course record. Owned by Team Valor, WinStar Farm, and a consortium of South Africans, Ipi Tombe will soon arrive in Elliott Walden's barn, where she will be prepared for the Arlington Million.

Victory Moon, trained like Ipi Tombe by Mike de Kock in South Africa, may have spoiled Godolphin's Kentucky Derby plans for Inamorato with his victory in the 1 1/4-mile, $2 million UAE Derby. Trapped on the rail in a closely bunched field, Inamorato was finally set free by Dettori nearing the eighth pole, by which time Victory Moon, a Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old who is ineligible for the Kentucky Derby, was gone.

Inamorato, however, will still be shipped to America, after which a decision will be made about his participation in the May 3 Derby. Sonlark, Godolphin's UAE Derby runner-up, is also under consideration for the Derby. A decision on whether he travels to America is expected to be made later this week.