02/11/2003 12:00AM

Moon Ballad heads Challenge

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Moon Ballad will use Round 2 of the Maktoum Challenge, a 1 1/8-mile Group 3 race Thursday at Nad Al Sheba, as a test for the Dubai World Cup. Also on the card, six Godolphin nominees to the Triple Crown will line up for the UAE 2000 Guineas.

Moon Ballad, a 4-year-old son of the 1997 World Cup winner, Singspiel, appears to have a class edge over main rivals Estimraar and State Shinto, who ran one-two in Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge three weeks ago. A Group 2 and 3 winner in England last year, Moon Ballad was a 6 1/4-length winner in a dirt allowance at Nad Al Sheba last winter before finishing fourth in the UAE Derby.

Aaron Gryder will return to Dubai to ride the Saudi-based Go Underground, on whom he was fourth in Round 1 of the Challenge.

The UAE 2000 Guineas, a mile on dirt, serves as a prep for the 1 1/4-mile UAE Derby.

Godolphin's first string in the Guineas is Bourbonnais, who won the listed Acomb Stakes in England last year. Victory Moon, from South Africa, and the Argentine-bred Seattle Fitz loom as potential spoilers.