12/07/2009 1:00AM

Hong Kong draws global cast


A record 30 foreign-trained horses will run in Sha Tin's Hong Kong International Races on Sunday. With just four races worth $8 million, that makes it the most densely populated international racing festival in history.

Those 30 horses, from America, Britain, France, Ireland, South Africa, and Japan, will be joined by all of the best Hong Kong has to offer in a cornucopia of Thoroughbred talent that comes close to living up to the Hong Kong Jockey Club's pet name for its festival, the World Thoroughbred Turf Championships.

Hong Kong Sprint

At six furlongs with one 90-degree right-handed turn, the Sprint could be the best sprint race run anywhere in the world on any surface this year. Worth $1.5 million, it has attracted the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint winner California Flag, plus Cannonball, the fast-closing Turf Sprint third who narrowly missed winning the six-furlong, Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

Trained by Brian Koriner, California Flag is a confirmed front-runner who will have to be at his very best to hold off a high-class field of Australians and Europeans, most of whom do their best running late. The Sprint has drawn nine Group 1 winners, three of them from Australia, including Scenic Blast, who beat Cannonball 5 1/2 lengths into sixth in winning Royal Ascot's five-furlong King's Stand Stakes, and seven-time Group 1 sprint winner Apache Cat. Apache Cat, however, was beaten into fourth place last time in the six-furlong, Group 1 Patinack Farm Classic at Flemington by All Silent, who arrives at Sha Tin in the best form of his career.

Add Borderlescott, two-time winner of the five-furlong, Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes at York; the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp winner Total Gallery; and local sprint champ Sacred Kingdom, the winner of this race in 2007, and it looks almost impossible to find the winner.

Here's a hint. Eliminate the Europeans, as they always tend to run slower than the Yanks and the Aussies. As California Flag may not be able to hold off the cavalry charge, the winner could be Cannonball, All Silent, or Apache Cat. Go with one of the Aussies, who have an excellent record in this race. The Australian Falvelon nosed out the American Morluc in the 2000 and 2001 runnings. This year it might be the same scenario, with All Silent just getting the better of Cannonball.

Hong Kong Cup

Eagle Mountain returns to defend his title in this 1 1/4-mile Group 1 worth $2.6 million, but this Mike de Kock trainee has run only once since last year, finishing ninth behind Fellowship in the International Mile Trial here on Nov. 22. By comparison, he was coming off a sharp second last year to Conduit in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

As a result, it would be wise to look for the winner elsewhere. The Luca Cumani-trained Presvis is an experienced traveler, having been second in the Dubai Duty Free and first in the 1 1/4-mile Queen Elizabeth II Cup here on April 26 when he beat Viva Pataca, a seven-time Group 1 winner at Sha Tin. Collection, winner of the Group 2 International Cup Trial, is the most dangerous local, while Vision d'Etat, the 2008 French Derby winner at 1 5/16 miles, should appreciate the cut back in distance after his 10th-place finish in the 1 1/2-mile Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The Aga Khan's 3-year-old filly Ashalanda is 3 for 4 lifetime. She beat older fillies last time in the 1 1/4-mile, Group 2 Pride Stakes and should improve off that effort in what is not the toughest Hong Kong Cup in history. From Japan, Queen Spumante deserves equal consideration off her win in the 1 1/4-mile, Grade 1 Shuka Sho, in which she beat the Aga Khan's Group 2 winner Shalanaya into fourth. But if he runs his race, Presvis will be hard to pin back.

Hong Kong Mile

The Ben Cecil-trained Ferneley is not without a chance in this $2 million mile. Not disgraced when he was an always-wide seventh behind the remarkable Goldikova in the Breeders' Cup Mile, he had previously won the Del Mar Mile Handicap and been second to the remarkable Ventura in the Woodbine Mile, efforts that would have him close on Sunday.

But looming large is Good Ba Ba, the winner of the last two runnings of this race who prepped with a third in the International Mile Trial, in which he was beaten by 1 1/2 lengths while spotting the victorious Fellowship five lengths. They meet at equal weights on Sunday.

And do not overlook Sweet Hearth, a still-improving 3-year-old Touch Gold filly trained by Alain de Royer-Dupre who beat the subsequent Breeders' Cup Mile winner Goldikova into third in the seven-furlong, Group 1 Prix de la Foret on Oct. 3. She will be ridden by Gerald Mosse, who has spent much of the last 15 years plying his trade at Sha Tin.

Hong Kong Vase

This is one of the better renewals of this 11/2-mile race worth $1.8 million. In Youmzain it has a three-time Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runner-up. The Michael Stoute-trained Spanish Moon, fourth in Conduit's Breeders' Cup Turf last month, could win based on his victory in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in June. Local hero Viva Pataca may have seen better days but is still capable of a big effort. Black Mamba, whose latest was a victory in the Dowager at Keeneland, must be considered, as should a 3-year-old Aga Khan filly, Daryakana, who is fresh from a 2 1/2-length score in the 1 9/16-mile, Group 2 Prix de Royallieu at Longchamp.

But most of all beware Cirrus des Aigles. Trained by Corinne Barande-Barbe, this 3-year-old son of Even Top has finished first or second in 13 of his last 15 starts, winning the 1 1/4-mile, Group 3 Prix du Prince d'Orange and the 1 1/2-mile, Group 2 Prix du Conseil de Paris (by six lengths!) in his last two outings at Longchamp. Bet on him to spoil Youmzain's party once again.