Updated on 09/16/2011 9:51AM

Is Grandera's tank empty?


HONG KONG - Grandera's greatest asset has been his ability to travel the globe and hold his form while facing the best horses. Sunday, this admirable quality makes him vulnerable.

Grandera will be favored to take Sunday's $2.32 million Hong Kong Cup, the richest and most important of the four Hong Kong International Races to be run on grass at Sha Tin Racecourse. But he is at the end of an ambitious season, and might be ripe for an upset.

After beginning the year at his base in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Grandera has traveled in the past eight months to Hong Kong, Singapore, Britain, Ireland, and Australia. Now, to close the season, he returns to Hong Kong.

It is an exhaustive, and perhaps exhausting, campaign. On Thursday morning at Sha Tin, Grandera had his mind on everything but training, as he tossed his head about while holding it high. An attractive chestnut-colored colt with a white blaze, Grandera looks well, but he is returning to a course over which he ran one of his poorest races of the season. He was fifth of 14 in a Group 1 race here in April.

His primary challengers include Sarafan, who was a tough-luck loser of the Japan Cup in his last start; the Japanese raider Eishin Preston, who beat Grandera here in April; and Paolini, another well-traveled European whose recent form is below par, but who has looked well training here this week.

They are the principals in a 13-horse field that will travel 1 1/4 miles on a course that should be firm, despite rain that fell here Wednesday night. Jockeys who have been on the course this week said it is quite firm, and that the rain should make the conditions ideal.

The four International Races offer approximately $7.2 million in prize money. There are horses representing 11 countries, including five runners from the United States.

Sarafan is the lone horse representing the U.S. in the Hong Kong Cup. Texas Glitter, who will be making the final start of his career, represents the U.S. in the $1.28 million Hong Kong Sprint over five furlongs. Delta Form and Falcon Flight are in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase at 1 1/2 miles. French-raced Cayoke, who has yet to race in the U.S. but is now trained by Julio Canani, is considered America's representative in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Mile.

The Sprint will be run on a straightaway going right to left in front of the grandstand. The other races are around right-handed turns.

The first of the International Races, the Sprint, is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday Hong Kong time (1 a.m. Sunday Eastern time, 10 p.m. Saturday Western time). The final leg, the Hong Kong Cup, is three hours later. The races are scheduled to be shown on TVG. In addition, tracks such as the Meadowlands and Sam Houston Race Park, as well as tracks throughout Canada, are offering wagering on the races.

The Hong Kong Cup encompasses one furlong plus one lap of Sha Tin's track, which is approximately 1 1/8 miles in circumference. The finish line is just before the first turn, so horses drawn wide have only an eighth of a mile to get position.

None of the principal runners drew poorly when posts were determined Thursday morning, though Eishin Preston landed in post nine. Grandera is in eight, Sarafan six, with Paolini securing the coveted rail.

Grandera came straight to Hong Kong after finishing third in the Cox Plate in Australia on Oct. 26.

"He came back very good after his last race," Saeed bin Suroor, who trains Grandera for the Godolphin Racing Inc. stable of the Maktoum brothers of Dubai, said Thursday morning. "The international races are our target. We try to chase the best races, whether they are in America, Australia, or Hong Kong. So far, we've had good results."

Grandera has accumulated so many points in the year-long Emirates World Series Racing Championship that he has secured this year's title, irrespective of Sunday's result.

Sarafan seems to hold the best chance of beating Grandera. He was pointed for both the Japan Cup and Hong Kong Cup by trainer Neil Drysdale, and came within a nose of winning the first of those two. Sarafan looked quite well during his gallop Thursday morning.

Eishin Preston, based in Japan, has won both of his starts at Sha Tin, including last year's Hong Kong Mile.

Paolini was a distant sixth in the Canadian International in his last start, but he has never performed well on soft ground. Conditions should be better for him on Sunday. He has trained well. And he should be a decent price.

Here is a summary of the other three races.

Hong Kong Vase

The brilliant French filly Aquarelliste may be a tepid favorite off her close sixth-place finish in the Arc de Triomphe. She also beat males in the Prix Foy. However, she drew post 10 in a field of 14.

Ange Gabriel is a Group 1 winner in France, and beat Aquarelliste in June in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

Falcon Flight is due for some good luck. He was third to top-class runners High Chaparral and With Anticipation in the Breeders' Cup Turf, and is probably best known this year for his brutal trip in the Arlington Million, in which he was blocked late along the rail.

Delta Form was third in both the Turf Classic at Belmont and Hollywood Turf Cup in his two starts since taking the Del Mar Handicap.

Hong Kong Mile

Godolphin goes with Noverre, who has lost his last nine starts, including five as the favorite. He gets bet because of a second-place finish to Rock of Gibraltar in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in July, but performances like his sixth-place finish in the Atto Mile make him worth trying to beat in this one-turn mile.

Gateman offers good value. Drawn well in post three, he has improved sharply this fall. In his last start, he was third, beaten just a neck, in the Group 2 Prix Daniel Wildenstein at Longchamp. That race's winner was Domedriver, who won the Breeders' Cup Mile in his next start.

Tillerman is a Group 2-level performer who is a cut below the best milers in Europe, but he rates a chance in this field, though he is hung out in post 12 in a field of 13. Japan's Admire Cozzene has won three of his last six starts, and enjoys firm ground. Cayoke makes his first run for Canani, a potentially lucrative angle.

Hong Kong Sprint

Texas Glitter is making the 37th and final start of his productive career and seeks his third consecutive victory against 13 rivals. He just won the Hollywood Turf Express.

This race, however, is wide-open. Malhub is one of Europe's best sprinters and is due to break through after finishing second in his last three starts. Continent and Slap Shot were a nose apart when one-two in the Prix de l'Abbaye on Arc day at Longchamp. Believe, a Sunday Silence filly from Japan, has won four straight races.

Falvelon, from Australia, is seeking his third straight Hong Kong Sprint, but his recent below-par form makes him vulnerable.