02/01/2011 1:40PM

Maktoum Challenge at Meydan lures five elite runners from five countries

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BENOIT PHOTO
Crowded House, second to Richard's Kid in last summer's Pacific Classic, will try to end a long losing streak in Round 2 of the Maktoum Challenge

Round 2 of the Group 3, $200,000 Maktoum Challenge at 1 3/16 miles on the Meydan Tapeta surface on Thursday night is the second local step on the road to the $10 million Dubai World Cup. And while it goes without Godolphin’s Round 1 winner Mendip, who has opted for Round 3 on March 3, it will include five Group 1 or Grade 1 winners from five different countries.

American interests lie mainly with the 5-year-old Crowded House, one of two horses Ben Cecil will saddle on Thursday. Crowded House’s Group 1 victory came in the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster on Oct. 25, 2008, but he is winless in 12 starts since then. He was, however, second to Allybar in this race last year and second in the Pacific Classic on Del Mar’s Polytrack in August, and so appears to have an aptitude for synthetics. Englishman Ryan Moore will ride him for the first time.

The Team Valor-owned Gitano Hernando, the winner of the Goodwood Handicap on Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride in 2009, will be making his first start since a good fourth behind Twice Over, Vision d’Etat ,and Debussy in Newmarket’s Champion Stakes on Oct. 16. Trainer Marco Botti is hoping a season in Dubai will produce a better result in the World Cup than Gitano Hernando’s sixth last year off a single trial at Lingfield. Weichong Marwing rides him for the first time.

Al Shemali sprung a 145-1 surprise in last year’s Dubai Duty Free and has since been third in the May 16 Singapore International Airlines Cup behind Lizard’s Desire and Gloria de Campeao, who were second and first in last year’s World Cup. Trainer Rashid Al Raihe is hoping a return to synthetics, on which Al Shemali is 1 for 5, will produce similar results. The Mike de Kock-trained Bold Silvano, the winner last out of the 1 3/8-mile Durban July Cup on turf in his native South Africa, looms large, but the July Cup runner-up, Irish Flame, could only manage fourth in last week’s Al Rashidiya. Pascal Bary has Argentina’s Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini winner Interaction, but he must improve off a dull seventh in the listed Prix de Boulogne at Longchamp on Sept. 1.

Our Giant, a Group 1 sprint winner in South Africa, won a six-furlong Meydan handicap three weeks ago for de Kock and rates a favorite’s chance in the Group 3, $200,000 Al Shindagha Sprint at six furlongs. Sangaree, switched from Darley and Bob Baffert to Godolphin and Saeed bin Suroor, was second in the seven-furlong Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood in July and will be ridden by Frankie Dettori.

The other Ben Cecil trainee at Meydan is Ferneley. The 2009 Del Mar Mile winner ran only once last year when seventh in Del Mar’s Wickerr Stakes in July. He is against the Godolphin-owned Colonial in a seven-furlong turf handicap worth $175,000.