12/05/2003 12:00AM

Some of the greatest riches lie in the East


Come the end of November, almost all of the world's major racing outside of Hollywood Park shifts eastward to Asia.

Japan Cup Weekend at Tokyo, the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin, the much-underrated Arima Kinen at Nakayama, and the run-up to Dubai World Cup Night at Nad Al Sheba give the Far East and the Middle East a dominant position on the international stage throughout the winter.

Add the Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Sha Tin in late April and the Singapore International Airlines Cup at Kranji in Singapore in mid-May, and all of the world's genuinely international events between late November and mid-May are Asian-based.

In the late 1990's, when the Dubai World Cup was establishing itself as the world's richest race, Sheikh Mohammed declared that the future of racing lay in Asia. With the world's richest day of racing in Dubai, plus more than half of the world's 50 richest races being run in Japan, his prediction is close to coming true, at least in terms of prize money.

Next Sunday's four Hong Kong International Races will be worth an average of $1,932,000. Compare that with the Breeders' Cup average of $1.75 million per race, and you must begin to admire the work of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which has just 20 million potential bettors to make donations to their purse structure.

One of the reasons for the successes of Japan and Hong Kong is that, unlike America and Britain, neither jurisdiction has killed the goose that lays the golden eggs.

In Japan there are two racing organizations, the Japan Racing Association and the National Association of Racing. The JRA, the country's major body, ran just 288 days of racing last year at its 10 tracks. All but one of those were weekend dates, the exception being a meeting a Fukushima on Nov. 3, Japan's Culture Day national holiday.

Even the NAR's 1,686 days of racing at its 25 tracks, mostly on weekdays and almost entirely on dirt, fail to dampen the Japanese racegoer's enthusiasm. Maiden races at JRA tracks go for $100,000, while the NAR, where the quality of the sport is at least a cut below that offered by the JRA, runs three stakes races that are worth more than $1 million.

The JRA is in charge of the world's second-richest race and most valuable turf event, the Japan Cup. Last Sunday's renewal was worth $4,403,982. Last Saturday's Japan Cup Dirt, won by the Doug O'Neill-trained Fleetstreet Dancer, was worth $2,312,657, making it the world's third most valuable dirt race after the Dubai World Cup and the Breeders' Cup Classic.

In Hong Kong, they race just two days a week, from September to May at Happy Valley and Sha Tin. This gives players ample time to recoup their losses in the days between meetings, something fans in America never get the chance to do.

The money in Hong Kong is second only to Japan. And in racing as in everything else in our material world, money talks while all else walks.

Hong Kong Cup an elite gathering

Next Sunday's Hong Kong Cup promises to sort out the best 10-furlong horses in the world. Falbrav, who couldn't quite last the 12 furlongs of the Breeders' Cup Turf, will be challenged by the Gary Tanaka-owned Rakti, winner by two lengths of this year's Champion Stakes at Newmarket on Oct. 18.

Also in the field are the Bobby Frankel-trained Denon, looking to bounce back from a lackluster effort in the Japan Cup, and the French filly Bright Sky, who will relish a return to 1 1/4 miles on firm ground after having been pitched in too high in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

But all of them must beware the improving Weightless. A Pascal Bary trainee, he is a confirmed front-runner who is coming off wins in the Prix du Prince d'Orange and the Prix Dollar. Add course-and-distance Group 1 winner Eishin Preston from Japan and you have the makings of a dream race.

Sadly, only two American-trained horses other than Denon will be at Sha Tin. They are Sarafan and Mister Acpen, both of whom will go in the Hong Kong Mile. In recent years, the United States has been represented by nine or 10 horses. The poor American turnout is a disappointment, and may be a reflection of the direction American racing is taking in general. An American victory in Hong Kong would be the first since Cash Asmussen guided Val's Prince home in the 1997 Hong Kong Cup for trainer Jimmy Picou, but the odds for success are long in the face of some very stiff opposition.