12/08/2011 5:56PM

Hong Kong Cup: Cirrus des Aigles in top form

Hong Kong Jockey Club
Cirrus des Aigles has improved greatly since his seventh-place finish in the 2010 Hong Kong Cup.

Horses from all over the world have descended on Sha Tin Racecourse for the Hong Kong Cup meeting on Sunday. Well, not quite all over the world: Not a single North American runner has ventured to the Far East for any of the four Group 1 races worth a total of about $8.75 million.

The Group 1 stakes sequence gets under way with race 4 from Sha Tin, the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase, with post time scheduled for 1 a.m. Eastern. Race 5 is the $1.8 million Sprint, race 7 the $2.57 million Mile, and race 8 - the nominal feature - the $2.57 Hong Kong Cup.

Heading the 2000-meter (about 1 1/4-miles) Hong Kong Cup - at least in terms of international name recognition - is French raider Cirrus des Aigles. A gelding of humble origin, Cirrus des Aigles already has put forth a remarkable 2011 campaign, compiling a record of 5-4-1 from 10 starts. Making his 2011 debut way back on March 19, Cirrus des Aigles has improved basically every start this year, capping that trend with a smart win Oct. 15 at Ascot over So You Think in the Group 1 Champions Stakes. Cirrus Des Aigles actually traveled for the 2010 Hong Kong Cup, finishing seventh in a race won by Snow Fairy, but he appears to have become a substantively better horse in the interim.

The other European in the Hong Kong Cup is the venerable Juddmonte horse Byword, but the home team looks at least as strong. That contingent is headed by Ambitious Dragon, who was the horse of last year's Hong Kong racing season, when he won 7 of 8 starts, including a victory in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup. Ambitious Dragon has made two starts this season, winning his comeback race and finishing second in his prep for the Hong Kong Cup.

Sahpresa taking another shot at Mile

The co-featured $2.57 million Mile drew a field of 14, including European runners Cityscape, Rajsaman, and Sahpresa.

Sahpresa finished third last out in the Group 1 Mile Championship at Kyoto in Japan, the same placing she achieved in the 2010 Hong Kong Mile. The winner of last year's edition, Beauty's Flash, also is back for Sunday's race. The Mile also includes a host of familiar international-circuit milers, like the Freddie Head-trained Rajsaman, Xtension, Able One, and Dubawi Gold.

Rocket Man has tough rail draw in Sprint

Likely favorite Rocket Man will have to overcome a hazardous draw in post 1 if he's to win the $1.8 million Hong Kong Sprint. Contested over a straight-course five furlongs, the Sprint drew a field of 14. Rocket Man finished second in the 2010 Sprint, a race won by top sprinter J J the Jet Plane. Sacred Kingdom, who drew just outside Rocket Man, could prove to be the main opposition.

Thirteen going in Vase

The 2,400 (about 1 1/2 miles) Hong Kong Vase has a field of 13 horses, including two, Sarah Lynx and Redwood, who have raced in North America. Second in the 2010 Vase, Redwood is among the favorites for Sunday's race along with Dunaden, Thumbs Up, Sarah Lynx, and Vadamar.