12/08/2008 1:00AM

Eyes of the world turn east


Four of the more competitive international races run anywhere in the world this year will take place on Sunday at Sha Tin on Hong Kong International Raceday.

The Hong Kong Jockey Club has attracted 35 foreign-trained horses from seven different countries in addition to 18 locally trained runners in the four races, which will be worth a total of $7,998,000.

Of chief interest among the Americans will be the appearance of Kip Deville in the $2,064,000 Hong Kong Mile. First and then second in the last two editions of the Breeders' Cup Mile, he is in position to become the first American-trained winner in Hong Kong since 1997, when the Jimmy Picou-trained Val's Prince landed the Hong Kong Cup.

Kip Deville's trainer, Richard Dutrow Jr., had no luck in the Japan Cup Dirt on Sunday at Hanshin when Frost Giant finished 12th of 15. While Kip Deville is in a class above Frost Giant, he will be facing a number of horses who would give his BC Mile conqueror, Goldikova, a run for her money.

Natagora is a first-class miler just a notch below Goldikova. She won the 1000 Guineas on May 4, and since then she has finished second or third in four Group 1 races. The good-to-firm ground the Pascal Bary-trained filly will find at Sha Tin will be to her liking, but a strong pace for this front-runner may be a little more than she can handle.

Local hero Good Ba Ba won this race last year on the way to being named Hong Kong's horse of the year for the 2007-08 season. A son of Lear Fan trained by Andreas Schutz, he disappointed last time, however, when he was third in the International Mile Trial, a race he had won last year. The horse that won that race, Egyptian Ra, may be more of a threat at this stage.

Awesome Gem, trained by Craig Dollase, is winless in his last 10 starts since June 2007 and cannot be considered a major player off his sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Mile. Super Hornet, from Japan, is coming off a sharp second as the favorite in Kyoto's Grade 1 Mile Championship on Nov. 23 and would be no surprise. Pressing, trained in England by Michael Jarvis, has won Group 2 miles in Italy and Turkey in his last two outings and is no stranger to international competition, while the Jean-Marie Beguigne-trained Spirito del Vento has won the last two runnings of the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp. Kip Deville, who has been working well since his early arrival in Hong Kong more than two weeks ago, will have his work cut out for him around Sha Tin's one-turn, right-handed mile, and is likely to find a couple of horses too good for him on the day, Super Hornet being one of them.

Two other American challengers, Artiste Royal and Out of Control, will engage a sterling field in the 1 1/4-mile, $2,580,000 Hong Kong Cup. A decent eighth behind Admire Moon in last year's Japan Cup for trainer Neil Drysdale, Artiste Royal beat lesser when he won the 1 1/4-mile Charlie Whittingham two back on June 7. His second-place finish in a 1 1/16-mile Cup prep at Golden Gate on Nov. 21 looks bad on paper, but serves as a proper trial for a race that has come up very tough. The Bobby Frankel-trained, Brazilian-bred Out of Control would have to improve considerably off his best 2008 effort, a nose second in the Manhattan Handicap in June, in a race in which the Americans will do very well to crack the first four.

Eagle Mountain, trained by Mike de Kock, must be the selection off his very good second to Conduit in the Breeders' Cup Turf. That effort, in which he led briefly at the eighth pole, was just his second race in the last year and will have done him a world of good. Moreover, he is cutting back to his favorite distance in the Cup. Course-and-distance specialist Viva Pataca breezed to victory last time in the International Cup Sprint and will be heavily backed by the local punters, while the hard-knocking Linngari, another seasoned veteran of the international wars, must be used in the exotics.

They could all be trumped by the outstanding filly Lush Lashes. As versatile as they come, this Jim Bolger trainee ran into trouble when she was second in both the Nassau Stakes and the Prix de l'Opera over the Cup distance, and she has been freshened for this race.

European champion sprinter Marchand d'Or will put his impressive credentials on the line in the six-furlong, $1,548,000 Hong Kong Sprint. A three-time Group 1 winner this season trained by Freddie Head, he always comes with a late rush and holds a big class edge over his British and German rivals, Moorhouse Lad and Abbadjinn. He must beware, however, of Apache Cat, a six-furlong Group 1 winner in his native Australia, where he prepped perfectly with a sharp nose second to the redoubtable Takeover Target in the Group 2 Winterbottom Stakes on Nov. 29. Enthused, winner of the International Sprint Trial at Sha Tin on Nov. 23, is the best of the locals, but he is not in the same league as Hong Kong's two previous winners of this race, Sacred Kingdom and Absolute Champion. As sprint racing in Australia is a step or two quicker than it is in Europe, Apache Cat is the pick to take Marchand d'Or's scalp.

The 1 1/2-mile, $1,806,000 Hong Kong Vase may lack the cachet of the other three big races on the card but will be no less competitive for that. The Chantilly-based trainer Richard Gibson returns with the defending title-holder, Doctor Dino, who will have to be forgiven his fifth-place finish behind Marsh Side in the Canadian International last time if he is to be found deserving of anyone's money.

Doctor Dino can get the job done, however, simply because there is not that much to beat in the Vase. Muhannak will be facing much better than he beat in the Breeders' Cup Marathon, and he much prefers synthetic tracks anyway. From Australia, Douro Valley arrives off a neck score in the 1 1/2-mile Group 1 Yalumba Stakes at Caufield on Oct. 11, but the ex-handicapper was 40-1 that day off a seven-race losing streak.

The danger to Doctor Dino may be Purple Moon. Second in last year's Melbourne Cup for Luca Cumani, he was just 3 3/4 lengths ninth in the Japan Cup two weeks ago and is in the same position as two previous British-trained horses, Ouija Board and Phoenix Reach, both of whom bounced back from Japan Cup defeats to win the Hong Kong Vase.