12/10/2003 1:00AM

Mister Acpen a feisty bet


HONG KONG - Mister Acpen may be among the lowest-rated horses in the Hong Kong Mile, but that hasn't deterred his California-based trainer, Kristin Mulhall, from sending him 6,000 miles to run for a $1.8 million purse.

The Mile is one of four races that comprise the Hong Kong Internat-ional Races, four rich Group 1 turf races that will be held at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday before an expected crowd of 55,000. The other three are the $2.3 million Hong Kong Cup at 1 1/4 miles; the $1.8 million Vase, 1 1/2 miles; and the $1.3 million Sprint, five furlongs.

Mister Acpen is one of only three American-based horses scheduled to run in Hong Kong. He will be joined by Sarafan in the Mile. Denon, trained by Bobby Frankel, will take on favored Falbrav in the Hong Kong Cup.

Mister Acpen, a Chilean-bred 5-year-old, was his usual difficult-to-handle self on Wednesday morning as he cantered on the dirt with Mulhall herself in the irons. As he came through the stretch, he was pulling hard with his head held high.

Mulhall wasn't fazed. "I had to gallop him on dirt, because the turf track is only open to horses which are working," she said. "He'll work four furlongs on Thursday."

Mister Acpen won the Grade 3 Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap in late September, then finished third in the Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park on Nov. 29 won by Redattore. Rated at 111 by the international handicapping team, which selects the fields for the four Hong Kong International Races, Mister Acpen may be overlooked in what is not the most difficult running of the Mile by any means.

Sarafan, who was distanced in the Japan Cup on Nov. 30, and Lohengrin, the Japanese-trained runner-up to Nebraska Tornado in the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, are Mr. Acpen's two most serious rivals. Lohengrin is top-rated at 122, Sarafan at 115. All will carry 126 pounds.

Like Mister Acpen, Sarafan only galloped on Wednesday morning at Sha Tin, but Denon was given a more serious test for his date with Falbrav.

Frankie Dettori will replace Darryll Holland aboard the Luca Cumani-trained Falbrav, a son of Fairy King and a six-time Group 1 winner, in the Cup. Dettori was scheduled to breeze Falbrav on Thursday, the horse's last serious work before his career finale on Sunday.

One of the more serious challengers to Falbrav and Denon in the Cup will be the French filly Bright Sky. Although she was only sixth in a Breeders' Cup Turf in which Falbrav was third, her rider, Dominique Boeuf, said that effort can be dismissed.

"A mile and a half was much too far for her," Boeuf explained. "She will be much tougher going 10 furlongs."

On Wednesday, she impressed when she gave stablemate and Hong Kong Vase entry Vallee Enchantee a two-length beating in a four-furlong work with with another Vase contender, Group 1 Prix Ganay winner Fair Mix, four lengths farther back.

* On Tuesday, the lone Italian-trained runner in Hong Kong, Maktub, gave his trainer Bruno Grizzetti a scare. The Hong Kong Vase candidate was spooked by a worker in the stands as he galloped through the stretch. Veering sharply right, he unloaded his exercise rider and crashed through the inner rail, but escaped with a minor bruise to his left hind pastern.

* Frankel will remain at home and leave saddling Denon for the Hong Kong Cup to assistant Bobby Leetch.