02/24/2006 12:00AM

Silent Witness back to races

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The world's top-rated turf sprinter, Silent Witness, makes his much-anticipated return to action at Sha Tin on Sunday, when he makes his first start in nearly five months in the Group 1, $580,000 Centenary Sprint Cup.

Absent since winning the Group 1 Sprinters Stakes at Nakayama on Oct. 2, Silent Witness missed a chance at a third consecutive Hong Kong Sprint on Dec. 11 after a series of subpar works forced him to the sidelines.

Undefeated in 18 sprint starts, Silent Witness will be ridden by regular rider Felix Coetzee. Silent Witness has won the last two runnings of the Centenary Sprint Cup, a straight five-furlong dash, but he will be tested this time by Natural Blitz and Planet Ruler, the first two finishers in the most recent Hong Kong Sprint.

Also Sunday is the $1.03 million Hong Kong Gold Cup, a 1 1/4-mile Group 1 contest that serves as the second leg of the Hong Kong Triple Crown for older horses. The race is conspicuous by the absence of Vengeance of Rain, the winner of the Dec. 11 Hong Kong Cup. Vengeance of Rain was expected to use the Hong Kong Gold Cup as a prep for the Dubai Sheema Classic, but has been put away for the remainder of the Hong Kong season after a poor workout last weekend.

The Gold Cup looks like a duel between the first two finishers in the Hong Kong Triple Crown's first leg, the one-mile Stewards Cup. Russian Pearl defeated Best Gift by a head in that race, but the preference is for Best Gift, who has won twice over the Gold Cup course and distance.