12/12/2003 12:00AM

Falbrav in fighting form for Cup


HONG KONG - Falbrav, a six-time Group 1 winner making the final start of his career, is expected to be in top form at Sha Tin on Sunday when he takes center stage as the odds-on choice in the $2.4 million Hong Kong Cup.

The Hong Kong Cup is the centerpiece of the Hong Kong International Races, which comprise four Group 1 turf races at Sha Tin Racecourse. Only two American horses will be competing: Denon in the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup and Mister Acpen in the $1.8 million Mile. The other two races are the $1.8 million Vase at 1 1/2 miles and the $1.28 million Sprint at five furlongs.

With Frankie Dettori in the saddle for a final gallop at Sha Tin, Falbrav showed his spirit by taking a nip at Dettori's hand. Fit enough to take the mount after spraining his ankle in a Happy Valley spill Wednesday, Dettori shrugged off the bite and will add his mastery of Sha Tin's right-handed oval to Falbrav's sterling record.

Falbrav, a 5-year-old son of Fairy King, finished third in the Breeders' Cup Turf, a 1 1/2-mile race that proved to be a few yards too long for him. In the Hong Kong Cup, he is returning to the distance at which he has won three Group 1 races from 10 Group 1 starts this season.

Trainer Luca Cumani likes his chances, but Falbrav's task is not easy. Falbrav must catch front-running Weightless, a four-length winner of the Group 2 Prix Dollar, and then hold off the late charges of Rakti, Bright Sky, and Eishin Preston.

Rakti finished five lengths ahead of Falbrav when second in the Prince of Wales's Stakes in June. Rakti's only run since then came Oct. 18, when he took the Group 1 Champion Stakes at 1 1/4 miles, a race won a year earlier by Storming Home.

Bright Sky has a chance if she can repeat the form she showed when she beat Six Perfections by a neck in the Prix d'Astarte. The biggest danger to Falbrav, however, could be Eishin Preston, a 6-year-old Japanese invader and Sha Tin course specialist trained by Shuji Kitahashi. Eishin Preston is 3 for 4 at Sha Tin, with victories in the 2001 Hong Kong Mile and the 1 1/4-mile Queen Elizabeth II Cup in April, and he should give Falbrav a good challenge.

Denon, who finisned eighth in the Japan Cup, may not be running at his best distance. Defending champ Precision was only eighth in his Group 2 prep for this race.

David Flores may ask Mister Acpen to take them as far as he can in the Mile, but Mister Acpen will have his hands full, even with Thursday's withdrawal of Sarafan.

Lohengrin, a Japanese-bred son of Singspiel, was second by a half-length behind Nebraska Tornado in the one-mile, Group 1 Prix de Moulin de Longchamp. That form is considerably stronger than those of countrymates Telegnosis and Admire Max; the French Group 2 winner Special Kaldoun, who needs soft ground to show his best; or Firebreak, who has been swamped in his last two starts on turf in England after he won the Godolphin Mile on dirt.

With Olympic Express, the locally trained defending champ, off form of late, Lohengrin can win with Kent Desormeaux in the saddle.

Kalabar, an improving 3-year-old son of Kahyasi, may have an edge over his French rivals Fair Mix, Polish Summer, and Vallee Enchantee in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase. Kalabar was second to Vallee Enchantee in the Group 2 Prix du Conseil de Paris on Oct. 19, but that was Kalabar's first start at 1 1/2 miles. Imperial Dancer, trained in England by Mick Channon, won the 1 1/4-mile, Group 1 Premio Roma last time but has never won a Group 1 race at 1 1/2 miles.

The five-furlong Hong Kong Sprint is an intriguing contest. Falvelon, from Australia, outdueled Morluc, who is from America, here in 2000 and 2001. Another speedster from Australia could give the Aussies a third win in four years.

Into the Night is unbeaten going five furlongs. A 5-year-old son of Rhythm, he is capable of defeating local undefeated hero Silent Witness, a four-length winner of the Sprint Trial, and South African sprint champion National Currency.

Defending champ All Thrills Too is off form, and the four British invaders, led by Prix de l'Abbaye runner-up The Trader and Group 2 Diadem Stakes winner Acclamation, are bucking a history of poor British efforts in the Sprint.

* Victor Espinoza, denied his chance in the Mile due to Sarafan's withdrawal, has picked up a mount in the $90,000 Paris Handicap. Espinoza will be aboard Sounds Better for trainer Peter Ho in the six-furlong dash.