12/09/2009 1:00AM

Sprint candidates stretch their legs

Hong Kong Jockey Club
California Flag, the front-running winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, has settled in well at Sha Tin.

California Flag and Cannonball have taken their work schedule at Sha Tin Racecourse in stride this week as they prepare for a red-hot edition of the $1.5 million, six-furlong Hong Kong Sprint on turf Sunday.

The front-running winner of the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint, California Flag arrived at Sha Tin in good order this past Sunday and has settled in well in the foreign quarantine stabling area at the head of the Sha Tin stretch. There he joined Cannonball, the third-place finisher in the Turf Sprint who has been at Sha Tin since Nov. 21. California Flag has galloped his first few days since arriving and was scheduled to have a serious work on Thursday. On Tuesday, Cannonball galloped as well and was timed in 25.1 seconds for the final quarter-mile on Sha Tin's all-weather track.

"Cannonball is a very excitable horse," explained Declan Murphy, the assistant to trainer Wesley Ward. "He was starting to play up coming off the track, but I spoke to Wesley on Monday and he told me that he would be worried if the horse wasn't that way. He has proved he's adaptable with his performances this year in England and the States. He arrived here with a slight temperature but he's a tough horse and all is good with him now."

In addition to local sprint champ Sacred Kingdom, the Sprint will include three Group 1 winners from Australia: Apache Cat, All Silent, and Scenic Blast, who is also the winner of Royal Ascot's Group 1 King's Stand Stakes in which he beat Cannonball into sixth place. Apache Cat, the winner of seven Group 1 sprints Down Under and third in last year's Hong Kong Sprint, was timed in 22 seconds flat for the last part of his work on the Sha Tin turf course Wednesday.

Ferneley, who will run in the $2 million Hong Kong Mile, and Black Mamba, who goes in the $1.8 million, 1 1/2-mile Hong Kong Vase, arrived with California Flag on Sunday. Ben Cecil sounded an upbeat note about Ferneley's chances on Wednesday.

"I worked him right-handed at Santa Anita after they closed the track and I have every reason to believe that he'll be better going that way," Cecil said.

A narrow second to Ventura in the Woodbine Mile two back, Ferneley won his maiden going seven furlongs right-handed at Galway in 2006 when trained by Francis Ennis.

France has sent an especially strong contingent to Hong Kong. The Aga Khan will be represented by two improving, Group 2-winning 3-year-old fillies in Daryakana in the Vase and Ashalanda in the $2.6 million, 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup.

The ultra-consistent, in-form Cirrus des Aigles, trained by Corinne Barande-Barbe, also goes in the Cup, as does French Derby and Prince of Wales's Stakes winner Vision d'Etat.

Another 3-year-old filly, the Alain de Royer-Dupre-trained Sweet Hearth, goes in the Mile off her upset score over Goldikova in the Prix de la Foret.

Three riders tie for first in competition

Christophe Lemaire, Ryan Moore, and Johnny Murtagh finished in a dead heat for first in the Cathay Pacific International Jockeys Championship at Happy Valley on Wednesday night. Each rider won one of the three races in the series and finished unplaced on his other two rides. Thus they tied for the title with 12 points each. For their efforts, each jockey received $12,900.

Joe Talamo and Chantal Sutherland had no luck in the contest. Talamo was ninth of 12 as his mounts finished 12th, 10th, and fourth. Sutherland was 11th as her rides came home seventh, 12th, and fifth.