03/02/2010 1:00AM

Vale of York returns in Al Bastikiya

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Justin N. Lane
Vale of York, with Ahmed Ajtebi up, outfinishes Lookin At Lucky in the BC Juvenile.

Vale of York makes his seasonal debut in the 1 3/16-mile Al Bastikiya on Thursday night on a glittering Dubai World Cup preview card at Meydan, which includes a number of the more prominent international names in the Thoroughbred hierarchy.

Course-and-distance preps for six of the seven group races scheduled for Dubai World Cup Night, March 27, will be run Thursday, with Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vale of York starting things off in the listed $250,000 Al Bastikiya at 10:35 a.m. Eastern. Ahmed Ajtebi retains the ride on the Irish-bred Vale of York, but Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford has cautioned that the horse is behind schedule and is in need of a race. Crisford also has said that whether Vale of York is sent to America for the Kentucky Derby or England for a turf campaign will only be decided after his appearances in this race and the UAE Derby.

Frankie Dettori takes the ride on another of Godolphin's Kentucky Derby hopefuls, Mendip, the winner of a seven-furlong Meydan allowance Feb. 11. The Chilean-bred Della Barba, third in the UAE 2000 Guineas two weeks ago, holds an upset chance.

The $300,000 Round 3 of the Maktoum Challenge is a Group 2 race but has drawn a Group 1 field. A 1 1/4-mile trial for the World Cup itself, it has attracted two of Japan's best females in Japan Cup winner Vodka and Japan Cup third and Shuka Sho winner Red Desire, who will use this as a prep for the Dubai Sheema Classic on turf. Both will employ French riders in their first tries on a synthetic surface, with Christophe Lemaire on Vodka and Olivier Peslier on Red Desire.

The key to the race lies with Cavalryman. Trained last year by Andre Fabre for Darley to win the Grand Prix de Paris and finish third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Cavalryman is now with Saeed bin Suroor at Godolphin. He will be ridden by Dettori as Ajtebi takes the ride on Allybar, winner of Round 2 of the Group 3 Maktoum Challenge two weeks ago over the course and distance. Gloria de Campeao, winner of the one-mile Round 1 of the Maktoum Challenge and second in last year's World Cup, will be ridden by Tiago Pereira for Pascal Bary.

Candidates for the 1 1/2-mile Dubai Sheema Classic will prep in the Group 2, $250,000 Dubai City of Gold. Halicarnassus, Quijano, and Claremont finished first, third, and fourth in a 1 1/2-mile handicap on Feb. 11, but they will be tested by the Luca Cumani-trained Purple Moon, who makes his first start since finishing a neck third in last year's Sheema Classic. Claremont's Godolphin stablemate Campanologist, a Group 2 winner at Royal Ascot, is Dettori's choice.

Godolphin's Justenuffhumor disappointed in his Meydan debut when sixth in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort two weeks ago. Justenuffhumor, third in the Breeders

Cup Mile, will try to make amends with Ted Durcan aboard in the Group 2, $250,000 Jebel Hatta. He will face the Cumani-trained Presvis, whose World Cup hopes were abandoned after a dull effort behind Allybar in a Tapeta handicap last month. Presvis won Sha Tin's Queen Elizabeth II Cup in April after a narrow loss to Gladiatorus in the Dubai Duty Free. Justenuffhumor will be joined by three Godolphin stablemates in Alexandros, fresh from a Feb. 4 win in the Group 3 Al Rashidiya, Ibn Khaldun, and Tam Lin.

Godolphin's Desert Party, unraced since finishing 14th in the Kentucky Derby, makes his synthetic debut in the Group 3, $200,000 Mahab Al Shimaal at six furlongs, but faces a stiff challenge from recent Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint winner War Artist.

The Group 3, $200,000 Burj Nahar, a prep for the Godolphin Mile, is a toss-up among Maktoum Challenge Round 1 runner-up Forgotten Voice, Godolphin's progressive Skysurfers, and Soneva, winner of the Group 3 Cape Verdi Stakes who makes her synthetic debut.

* The connections of Japan's best dirt horse Espoir City, a recent 2 1/2-length winner of Tokyo's February Stakes, have declined an invitation to run in the Dubai World Cup and will concentrate on dirt races on Japan's National Association of Racing circuit.