Local stars up for the Challenge?

Dubai Aluminium (DUBAL) sponsors Thursday`s fixture of the 2012 Dubai World Cup Carnival which is, without a doubt, the best meeting so far, featuring the middle rounds of the Al Maktoum Challenge, both for Thoroughbreds and Purebred Arabians, the Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas and Group 3 Firebreak Stakes.

The Al Maktoum Challenge Round II for Thoroughbreds, over 1900m on the all-weather surface has been upgraded to Group 2 status this year and 11 have been declared for a race won in 2003 by subsequent Dubai World Cup winner Moon Ballad.

He is one of seven winners of the race trained by Godolphin handler Saeed bin Suroor who saddles three runners this year, of whom Prince Bishop looks the best hope under Silvestre De Sousa, although stable companion Mendip is a course and distance winner. However, both have been deserted by the stable’s number 1 jockey Frankie Dettori, who rides UAE debutant Dubai Prince for the other Godolphin trainer, Mahmoud Al Zarooni.

A high-class juvenile when trained in Ireland by Dermot Weld and winning both his starts for His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the four-year-old was switched to Godolphin for his Classic campaign in 2011 but managed only two starts in the autumn after an injury in the spring. He won the first of them before struggling in the Group 1 Champion Stakes and is joined in the field by fellow four-year-old Biondetti who also only managed two runs last year having won in Group1 company as a juvenile in 2010.

Al Zarooni said: "Obviously this is a tough race but they are nice horses and ones we are very much looking forward to running at the Carnival. They had their problems last year but are in good form now and we will find out a lot about them."

Master Of Hounds, runner-up in Al Maktoum Challenge Round I last month behind stable companion Musir, looks a big danger and his trainer Mike de Kock, is seeking a fourth win in the race. The trainer said: "We were delighted with that first run as he will have needed it and 1600m is short enough for him. He should run well."

Bold Silvano won this race for de Kock last year and runs for the first time since when going against eight rivals in the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes over 1600m.

De Kock explained: "We really thought he was our [Dubai] World Cup horse last year but sadly missed the race through injury and we have given him all the time he needed. He is working well and, hopefully, this is the first step towards the 2012 Dubai World Cup."

The Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas, restricted to three-year-olds, is also over 1600m on the all-weather and nine have been declared, headed by Singapore raider Dark Matter who won the 1400m trial a month ago and followed up in a 1400m turf handicap against his elders a fortnight later.

Trained by Steven Burridge, he will be ridden by Ted Durcan as he has been for both wins and, having already beaten five of his eight rivals, he looks certain to be a popular Pick Six selection.

The Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge Round II for Purebred Arabians is a Group 1 affair over 2400m and opens proceedings.

Albar Lotois, trained by Eric Lemartinel looks a big hope, along with the Saifaldin Deeb prepared Sahib Du Clos, while Richard Hills chooses to ride Takaamul of three runners owned by his main employer, His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum.