12/12/2005 12:00AM

A near sweep for Asian horses


Only Ouija Board's victory in the Hong Kong Vase prevented Asian-trained horses from a sweep of the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin on Sunday as American raiders Willow O Wisp and Nicole's Dream both finished out of the money in their races.

Vengeance of Rain topped the bill when he bounced back to his best form of last spring with a win in the $2.32 million Hong Kong Cup at 1 1/4 miles. Trained locally by David Ferraris, Vengeance of Rain, a 5-year-old New Zealand-bred, prevailed by a neck over the French mare Pride with British invader Maraahel a length farther back in third. As Pride and Maraahel had finished second and third behind David Junior last time in England's most important 10-furlong race, the Champion Stakes, there is no denying the value of the Hong Kong Cup's 2005 form.

Willow O Wisp led from his wide draw under Kieren Fallon until approaching the quarter pole but faded to finish ninth of 10, although beaten only 4 1/4 lengths by the winner. Defending champ Alexander Goldrun never landed a blow in coming home eighth, just a half-length in front of Willow O Wisp.

Ridden by Anthony Delpech, Vengeance of Rain covered the 1 1/4 miles on good to firm ground in a pedestrian 2:04.50 as the 4-5 favorite.

After a pair of lackluster runs earlier this fall, Vengeance of Rain showed signs of life with a narrow score in the International Cup Trial last month. He must now be considered one of the world's leading middle-distance runners, as his three Group 1 victories last season included the Queen Elizabeth II Cup against an international field at Sha Tin.

Ouija Board, second in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf and fifth in the Japan Cup in her two prior starts, clicked this time with a convincing 2 3/4-length victory in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Vase at 1 1/2 miles. She rallied under Fallon from near the back of the 12-runner field, stopping the clock in 2:28.90 at odds just shy of 7-2. Runner-up Six Sense gave undefeated Japanese triple crown winner Deep Impact a big boost with his effort, as he had finished seven lengths behind Deep Impact in the Japanese Derby. Arc runner-up Westerner was fifth.

But after Ouija Board's victory, it was all Asia. Natural Blitz, trained in Hong Kong by Danny Cruz, proved an impressive 1 3/4-length winner over Planet Ruler in the $1.29 million Hong Kong Sprint. The first five home are all trained in Hong Kong, with the British-trained Benbaun having snuck in for sixth. Sent off at 27-1, Natural Blitz was timed in 57.60 seconds for the straight five furlongs. The Larry Rivelli-trained Nicole's Dream led for the first furlong but weakened to finish last of 12, beaten 9 1/4 lengths.

Hat Trick closed with a brilliant late run under Olivier Peslier to give Japan a 1 1/4-length victory in the $1.8 million Hong Kong Mile. Trained by Katsuhiko Sumii, the man who engineered Kane Hekili's triumph in the Japan Cup Dirt two weeks ago, Hat Trick is a Sunday Silence 4-year-old who was coming off a similar late-running win in Japan's Mile Championship at Kyoto on Nov. 20. In leading three Hong Kong horses - The Duke, Dave's Best, and Bullish Luck - across the line, Hat Trick covered the mile in 1:34.80 at 7-2.