12/17/2001 12:00AM

Morluc cuts margin but loses to Falvelon once more


HONG KONG - Morluc and Falvelon starred in Sunday's sequel to last year's Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin, and the result was the same as the American speedster Morluc suffered another heartbreaking defeat at the hands of his Australian arch-rival Falvelon.

Morluc managed to cut Falvelon's winning margin from a head to a nose this time, but that was no consolation for rider Robby Albarado, trainer Randy Morse, or owner Mike Cloonan.

Starting from post 14 in the 14-horse field, 7-1 Morluc tracked the pace virtually isolated for the first quarter-mile of the five-furlong straight race, which went in 57 seconds. As Albarado angled him closer to the action, Morluc picked up the challenge as Falvelon and jockey Damien Oliver came over to meet them from their side of the track.

Morluc was gaining with every stride through the final sixteenth but the 4-1 Falvelon just held him off. The American was the winner a step past the line.

Could next December bring a third match in this Group 2 dash?

"We could come back next year if he's fit and healthy," said winning trainer Danny Bougoure.

"It's an honor to run here," said the luckless Cloonan. "I'd come back to Sha Tin in a heartbeat," which is about all that separates Morluc and Falvelon.

Eishin Preston had finished a close second to Zenno El Cid in their prep for the $1.8 million Grade 1 Hong Kong Mile, yet Eishin Preston was sent off at 24-1 while Zenno El Cid was the even-money favorite.

It was Eishin Preston, a 4-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Green Dancer, who won going away by 3 1/4 lengths, as Zenno El Cid finished last in the field of 14.

Like his Japan countrymates Agnes Digital in the Cup and Stay Gold in the Vase, Eishin Preston had to overcome a seemingly impossible draw, 13 of 14, yet he handled his assignment with aplomb, clocking 1:34.80 on good to firm ground.

Hong Kong hopeful Electronic Unicorn got up for second by a length from China Visit, while Breeders' Cup Mile runner-up Forbidden Apple was another half-length behind in fourth after a race-long argument with rider Corey Nakatani.

While establishing a good position in fourth early on, Forbidden Apple began drifting left on the right-handed oval course. The problem became pronounced entering the two-furlong-plus stretch, at which point all hope was lost.

Yet when Nakatani finally straightened him out, Forbidden Apple came back to take fourth, which is where he had finished in last year's Hong Kong Cup.

Stay Gold's head victory at 9-5 in the 1 1/2-mile Grade 1 Hong Kong Vase was a deja vu nightmare for Godolphin.

In March, Stay Gold had produced a late run to catch Fantastic Light on the line in the $2 million Dubai Sheema Classic. In the $1.8 million Vase, Stay Gold did it again, making up five lengths through the stretch to defeat Godolphin's Ekraar by a head.

Frankie Dettori had stolen a big lead on the far turn aboard Ekraar. In midstretch, only Stay Gold had any chance of catching him, and when he nearly veered into the rail, hope seemed to evaporate.

But Yutaka Take pulled Stay Gold away from the fence and Stay Gold responded with a scintillating finish to kick off a Japanese triple. The 7-year-old Japanese-bred son of Sunday Silence will now be retired to stud with seven victories in 50 starts and earnings of $8,975,000.

o The global economic slowdown, along with incursions made by illegal bookmaking in Hong Kong, conspired to reduce handle on the nine-race International Races card at Sha Tin by HK $42.1 million to HK $1.16 million, or US $148,801,000. Ontrack attendance was also down, from 71,272 to 51,167.

o Nakatani was suspended by the stewards of the Hong Kong Jockey Club for five days for careless riding aboard Forbidden Apple in the Mile. The stewards also deemed that Nakatani's demeanor and attitude in the early stages of the inquiry were unacceptable. They later accepted Nakatani's apology.

o With Emirates Airlines having announced that it will not sponsor next year's World Series Racing Championships, the World Series Committee has announced two additions to its 2002 schedule. The Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin and the Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji will become the second and third legs of the Series, which will consist of 14 races next year.