12/09/2005 1:00AM

Designed for Luck injured, will miss Mile

Hong Kong Jockey club
Willow O Wisp arrives in Hong Kong for his appearance in the Cup.

Willow O Wisp and Nicole's Dream were left alone to carry American hopes in Sunday's Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin after Designed for Luck was withdrawn from the Hong Kong Mile on Friday because of lameness.

Two days after trainer Vladimir Cerin had stated that Designed for Luck was "the soundest he's been in a long time," the horse was discovered lame in his right hind fetlock and scratched. Cerin, however, still has high hopes for Willow O Wisp in the $2.32 million, 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup, one of four Group 1 races on the card.

Riding the crest of a three-race graded-stakes winning streak capped by a victory in the Del Mar Derby, the improving Willow O Wisp should not be outclassed in the Cup despite three factors working against success. The Cup will be his first try beyond 1 1/8 miles, as well as his first against older horses. He will also be running without the aid of either Lasix or Butazolidin, as Hong Kong is a drug-free racing zone.

On the positive side, this is hardly a vintage Hong Kong Cup, and Willow O Wisp, a son of the Miswaki sire Misnomer, has picked up the services of Kieren Fallon, a man whose international credentials precede him.

The defending champ, Alexander Goldrun, has looked dull in her last two starts after a brilliant third-place finish in the Irish Champion Stakes. Local hero Vengeance of Rain, a three-time Group 1 winner last spring, has been struggling to recapture his best form of late. Epalo is winless in three tries since taking a German Group 3 in April.

If none of those three can bounce back to their best, the race could go to either the Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained Pride or the Michael Stoute-trained Maraahel, the second- and third-place finishers behind David Junior in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 15.

The speedy Nicole's Dream will try to wing it under E.T. Baird in the five-furlong, $1.29 million Hong Kong Sprint, a race notable for the absence of its ailing two-time defending champ, Silent Witness. A 14-time winner at the distance, the Larry Rivelli-trained Nicole's Dream will be running on a straight course for the first time against much better than she has ever faced in the Midwest.

Breaking alongside the front-running Benbaun, a Group 3 winner and Group 2 runner-up at the distance in Europe, Nicole's Dream will have the advantage of being on the faster side of the field, but neither of them may be good enough to hold off Cape of Good Hope. Although only 11th last time behind Silent Witness in the one-turn, six-furlong Sprinters Stakes in Japan, Cape of Good Hope, a 7-year-old trained by David Oughton, is much better over a straight five furlongs. Second in this race last year, he proved his class with Group 1 sprint victories earlier this season in England and Australia. Michael Kinane has the ride.

An American victory of sorts may be in the offing in the 1 1/2-mile, $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase, in which Team Valor's Italian-bred Sweet Stream - re-routed from the Melbourne Cup by her Chantilly-based trainer, John Hammond, because of a minor setback - looks set for a big effort. Winner of last year's Group 1 Prix Vermeille, Sweet Stream has won both her starts this year, the Group 3 Prix Gontaut-Biron and the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes. She may be better suited to 12 furlongs than Westerner, runner-up in the Arc and winner of the Ascot Gold Cup, who prefers longer. Ouija Board will attempt to bounce back from her fifth-place finish in the Japan Cup, while Cherry Mix is coming off a win in the Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club in Milan. Japanese raider Six Sense has been chasing the undefeated Deep Impact all year but faces a tough task here.

The $1.8 million Hong Kong Mile is a wide-open affair, with local mile champ Bullish Luck; Japan's recent Mile Championship winner, Hat Trick; and the Yasuda Kinen winner, Asakusa Den'en, representing Asia. Flying the British flag are the enigmatic Rakti and the recent winner of seven-furlong Group 1 Prix de la Foret, Court Masterpiece. A lukewarm vote goes to Hat Trick, who runs for the white-hot Katsuhiko Sumii stable, with Olivier Peslier at the controls.