12/14/2003 12:00AM

Falbrav best in Hong Kong Cup


Hong Kong - Falbrav ran according to script at Sha Tin on Sunday, slamming a top class international field to take the $2.4 million Hong Kong Cup with consummate ease while establishing himself as the best ten-furlong horse in the world.

Curtain calls were in order as the 7-10 favorite charged to the lead under Frankie Dettori approaching the furlong pole and cruised to the line two lengths in front of Rakti with Dr More third and Japanese course specialist Eishin Preston fourth.

The 5-year-old son of Fairy King will now return to England prior to embarking for Japan where he will stand at co-owner Teruya Yoshida's Shadai Farm in Hokkaido.

Luca Cumani, who trained Falbrav to five Group 1 triumphs, was sanguine about the impending retirement.

"Falbrav is a champion and is the best horse in the world at the moment," he said. "He's won seven Group 1 races, and of course he has to retire sometime."

He showed no ill effects from his game third-place effort in the Breeders' Cup Classic seven weeks ago, but then, Falbrav is a horse that has always thrived on racing. This was his tenth race of the year, all of them Group 1 affairs, five of which he won, they being the Prix d'Ispahan, the Eclipse Stakes, the Juddmonte International, the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and the Hong Kong Cup.

His winning time, 2:00.90 off a 25.20 opening quarter, was just .7 of a second off Industrialist's track record. And while Falbrav will be missed, runner-up and Champion Stakes winner Rakti, denied a narrowing gap by the winner at a crucial stage in mid-stretch, will race again next year for his evergreen trainer, Michael Jarvis.

The 38-1 Bobby Frankel-trained Denon raced in mid-pack down the backstretch but weakened through the homestretch, coming home eleventh, 13-3/4 lengths behind the magnificent Falbrav.

American hopes had been dashed earlier when Mister Acpen, ignored in the betting at 55-1 in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Mile, was outpaced turning for home and finished tenth, 11-1/4 lengths behind the victorious Lucky Owners, who was providing local trainer and former jockey Tony Cruz and his South African rider Felix Coetzee with their second big win of the day.

A New Zealand-bred son of Danehill, Lucky Owners came form well out of it to defeat Bowman's Mill, the Hong Kong-trained horse who replaced Sarafan in the Mile, by half a length. The 5.40-1 winner was timed in 1:34.30 as Kent Desormeaux could only manage third aboard the 9-10 Japanese favorite Lohengrin.

Earlier, Cruz and Coetzee had teamed up for the day's most popular winner, Silent Witness. The unbeaten 4-year-old gelding lived up to his pre-race billing with an exciting one-length victory in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Sprint over South African champion National Currency. Now 8-for-8, the 3-10 Silent Witness got the straight five furlongs on good to firm ground in 56.50 while establishing himself as one of the world's better sprinters, but it is unlikely that we will ever see him outside of Hong Kong.

The $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase was, like last year, a largely French affair. Vallee Enchantee, trained by Elie Lellouche for Ecurie Wildenstein, came with a late rush at 7.10-1 to beat the Khalid Abdullah-owned, Andre Fabre-trained Polish Summer by three quarters of a length in 2:28.30.

Last year, Ange Gabriel and Aquarelliste had pulled off a similar French coup, but on this day, after Hong Kong-trained horses had increased their International Races victory total to five in the last two years, the laurels were rightfully claimed by the magnificent Falbrav.