04/24/2003 12:00AM

Series starts with QEII Cup


Under the specter of the SARS epidemic looming in and around Hong Kong, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup will begin a revamped World Series Racing Championship at Sha Tin on Sunday.

With the Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji on May 17 having been canceled because of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and the Dubai World Cup having been withdrawn from the series last month, the 1 1/4-mile Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Cup is now the first leg of a 12-race World Series.

Only three foreign raiders will line up for the $1.8 million QEII Cup, and two, Paolini and Eventuail, are coming directly from Dubai.

Paolini will be dangerous off his second-place finish to Ipi Tombe in the Dubai Duty Free, in which Eventuail was fourth. Japanese defending champ Eishin Preston does not appear to be the force he once was. The 4-year-old filly Elegant Fashion is the likely favorite off her victory in the Hong Kong Derby, but the selection is Precision, who narrowly defeated Paolini in the Hong Kong Cup last December.