The road to the world's richest Thoroughbred race, the $10 million Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), continues Feb. 6 with the $250,000 Al Maktoum Challenge-Round 2 (UAE-II) at Meydan Racecourse.
Top contenders in the full field of 16 for the 1,900-meter (about 1 3/16-mile) test on the all-weather track include last year's winner Hunter's Light, Pearl Bloodstock's 2011 Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) victor Dunaden, and Chris Van Niekerk's South African middle-distance champion Heavy Metal.
He sent out Godolphin's European group I winner Hunter's Light to win last year's edition of the Al Maktoum Challenge Round 2 as well as Round 3 before the son of Dubawi checked in seventh behind Animal Kingdom in the Dubai World Cup. An unlucky 10th last summer in the Arlington Million (gr. I) after clipping heels in midstretch was followed by a good fourth-place finish to cap the season in the QIPCO Champion Stakes (Eng-I).
Bin Surror, who will attempt to land a record 10th victory in Round 2 of the Al Maktoum Challenge, also has African Story ready to compete.
More effective as a miler for Godolphin, African Story starts for the first time since finishing fifth in the 2013 World Cup for bin Suroor. The 7-year-old son of Pivotal won the 2012 Godolphin Mile (UAE-II) and Burj Nahaar (UAE-III) among four wins from six starts on Meydan's all-weather track.
Mutliple European group winner Prince Bishop, also a hard-trying son of Dubawi, was third behind Hunter's Light in last year's Round 2 and Round 3 of the Al Maktoum Challenge and failed to fire in the Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE-I) the grass on Dubai World Cup night. After a break, he came back to win the 1 1/2-mile September Stakes (Eng-III) on the all-weather at Kempton.
Godolphin also has entered Artigiano, a 4-year-old Distorted Humor colt who makes his second start of a comeback after missing his 3-year-old year, in part due to a medication ban. A multiple group-placed juvenile, he comes in off a creditable third in the 1,600-meter (about one-mile) Singspiel Stakes Jan. 9 on turf at Meydan for trainer Charlie Appleby. The colt will race on the all-weather for the first time while stretching out..
"We were very pleased with that comeback run over 1,600 meters on turf," Appleby his runner's about the Singspiel effort. "We really think the switch to the all-weather and step up in trip will help but are not well drawn (post 13) and this is obviously a better race.
"Hopefully he can at least run into a place."
In making his 2014 bow, globetrotter Dunaden bids to halt a 10-race winless stretch that followed a win in the BMW Caulfield Cup (Aus-) in Oct. 2012. Winner of the previous year's Melbourne Cup (Aus-I) and Longines Hong Kong Vase (HK-I), the 8-year-old son of Nicobar looks to get back on track after placing several times at the elite level in 2013, including seconds to St Nicholas Abbey in the Investec Coronation Cup (Eng-I) and Novellist in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.
He enters the Al Maktoum Challenge off a third-place finish to Dominant in the Hong Kong Vase Dec. 9 at Sha Tin.
Heavy Metal, upset winner of the South Africa's prestigious Durban July (SAf-I) last year, looks to rebound from at 10th-place finish in the Al Fahidi Fort (UAE-II) Jan. 23 at Meydan. The race marked the first outing for the 6-year-old son of Silvano since his win in the Durban July at 16-1 odds.
The Feb. 6 card, the fifth meeting of the Dubai World Cup Carnival, also includes the $250,000 United Arab Emirates One Thousand Guineas, which is headed by Godolphin's pair of Ihtimal and Wedding Ring.
A daughter of Shamardal, Ihtimal is the highest-rated filly in the field of 11 for the listed 1,600-meter (about one mile) race on the all-weather track, having a pair of group wins going seven furlongs and a mile in England last year and finishing third to subsequent Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (gr. IT) Chriselliam in the Shadwell Fillies' Mile (Eng-I) to cap her juvenile season for bin Suroor.
"She is a lovely filly, not the biggest but very tough," he said of Ihtimal, who will break from post 1. "She is in good form and we expect a big run.
"Her form in England is very good, she has a good draw and works well on the surface so she has a lot in her favour."
Bin Suroor has won the U.A.E. One Thousand Guineas eight times, most recently with Siyaadah in 2010.
Appleby is represented by Wedding Ring as well as Sheikh Ahmed bin Rashid al Maktoum's United Arab Emirates Oaks (UAE-II) hopeful Feedyah.
Wedding Ring will be for a follow-up to her 1 1/4-length win in the Guineas trial going 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs) Jan. 16 at Meydan. The daughter of Oasis Dream is aiming to extend a three-race win skein while stepping up to a mile for the first time.
"Wedding Ring should be fine over 1,600 meters at Meydan and clearly relished the surface when winning the trial," Appleby said. "This is obviously a stronger race, and Ihtimal looks the one to beat."
Feedyah, a Street Cry filly, won two of three starts last season, relishes the one-mile distance as evidenced by her victory in a one-mile conditions race at Ascot Sept. 7 in her most recent outing.
Trainer Mike de Kock is triple-handed with Magroora and Magrooma, both daughters of Dubawi, as well as Mensoora, a Jet Master filly. All are trying for a first stakes win for owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa al Maktoum.
De Kock and Sheikh Mohammed teamed to win the race in 2011 with Mahbooba.
More information on the Dubai World Cup Carnival, including entries, free past-performance data, selections, videos, and more, is available at www.amwestentertainment.com. HRTV will broadcast the card live starting at 9:30 a.m. EST.