02/12/2009 12:00AM

Vineyard Haven starts year in Dubai

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Vineyard Haven, winner of the Champagne, will make his 3-year-old debut Thursday in the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas at a mile on the Nad Al Sheba dirt track in Dubai.

Vineyard Haven starts what Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin hope will be a long but not so winding road to the Kentucky Derby on Thursday night in the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas at a mile on the Nad Al Sheba dirt track.

The winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga and the Champagne Stakes at Belmont for Bobby Frankel last year when he was the most accomplished American juvenile on dirt, Vineyard Haven was bought by Sheikh Mohammed for a reported $12 million before being whisked away to Godolphin's Al Quoz training center in November. The $250,000 Guineas will be his first start since Oct. 4, but trainer Saeed bin Suroor has expressed confidence in his fitness, proclaiming that the colt is further along at this point than Godolphin's Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner, Midshipman. In a surprise move, Frankie Dettori has passed on riding Vineyard Haven in favor of his stablemate Desert Party, the ex-Eoin Harty trainee who beat Vineyard Haven four lengths into third in Saratoga's Sanford Stakes in July. Ted Durcan takes the ride on Vineyard Haven, a son of Lido Palace.

Desert Party next finished 9 1/4 lengths sixth behind Vineyard Haven in the Champagne, but has prospered since being switched from Darley to Godolphin. A son of the UAE 2000 Guineas winner from 2001, Street Cry, Desert Party was victorious in his Nad Al Sheba debut on Jan. 22, taking a seven-furlong allowance by a half-length from Red Ransom, a Saratoga maiden winner who will be Godolphin's third runner in the UAE Guineas. All three are nominated to the Triple Crown, as is, of course, Midshipman, who is being aimed at the listed Al Bastikiya, a March 6 course-and-distance prep for the 1 1/8-mile UAE Derby on March 28.

Desert Party appears to have the measure of Redding Colliery, Blues and Rock, Rocks Off, and Fullback, all of whom were well behind him on Jan. 22. Rocks Off, however, has a license to improve off his fifth-place effort that day. An Argentine-bred son of Orpen trained by Mike de Kock, he is a Group 1 winner going a mile on turf in South Africa.

As a Southern Hemisphere 3-year-old, Rocks Off will tote 131 pounds compared to the 121 carried by Vineyard Haven and the other Northern Hemisphere 3-year-olds. That should not be construed as an advantage for the ex-Americans, however, as five of the last six winners of the UAE 2000 Guineas were bred south of the equator.

Two other ex-American horses - City Style, fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf, and Jose Adan, the disqualified winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity - will make their debuts for Godolphin in a 6 1/2-furlong turf allowance 70 minutes before the Guineas.

Thursday's Nad Al Sheba card will be televised by HRTV and TVG. Post time for the Guineas is 1:05 p.m. Eastern.

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