12/07/2007 1:00AM

U.S. falls behind rest of the world

EmailNEW YORK - The absence of any American-trained horses in the $4omillion-plus Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin on Sunday will pass largely unnoticed by all facets of the American racing industry. That oversight does not erase the fact that our failure to produce a single horse, in what this year is the most competitive of all the late- season international racing carnivals, is a disgrace.

American participation in big foreign races outside of Dubai World Cup Night is fast becoming a thing of the past. We have had only three runners in the last two International Race Days at Sha Tin - Rebel Rebel, sixth in last year's Sprint; Willow O Wisp, ninth in the 2005 Cup; and Nicole's Dream, 12th and last in the 2005 Sprint.

The six horses we have sent to Tokyo in the last three years for the Japan Cup and the Japan Cup Dirt have all failed to pick up a check. And with the exception of the game second of the ex-Brazilian Hard Buck in Ascot's King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in 2004, American horses simply don't even try to compete with Europeans on their home turf.

As far as Hong Kong is concerned, this hasn't always been the case. Jimmy Picou sent Val's Prince to win the Cup in 1997. The Christophe Clement-trained River Majesty finished second in that race in 1994, the same year the Richard Violette-trained Nijinsky's Gold was runner-up in the seven-furlong International Bowl, and a year before the Wally Dollase-trained Ventiquattrofogli had finished second in the Bowl. Bill Shoemaker scored one of his biggest victories as a trainer in 1993 when Glen Kate won an April edition of the Bowl. And Richard Morse engineered back-to-back seconds with Morluc in the 2000 and 2001 runnings of the Sprint.

The arrival of ex-New York Racing Association racing secretary Bill Nader as the Hong Kong Jockey Club's new executive director of racing in April was expected to aid in the organization's effort to create more American interest in the Hong Kong International Races, but that has failed to materialize. The original lineup of riders for last Wednesday's International Jockeys Championship at Happy Valley failed to include a single American. It was only after Nader used his personal friendship with Richard Migliore to get The Mig to accept a late invitation to the event that the United States was represented at all in Hong Kong this week.

Americans could be skittish about competing in Hong Kong because of the HKJC's drug policies, which are the strictest in the world and the cause of Takeover Target's forced withdrawal from last year's Sprint, a race for which he would have been the favorite. An Aussie speedster, Takeover Target had tested positive upon his arrival in Hong Kong. In such cases the vets give an owner two options: Either accept the situation and return home, with the HKJC picking up airfare and hotel bills, or hope that the horse will test negative on race-day morning. If, however, the horse tests positive again, he is scratched and the owner must foot the bill for all expenses.

That is what happened to Takeover Target. An American horse, Fast Parade, who also tested positive upon his arrival at Sha Tin for the Sprint, took the other route. His trainer, Peter Miller, and owners Gary and Cecil Barber, deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, withdrew their horse and returned home to America with their tails between their legs, all expenses paid.

With race-day medication long having been the norm in the U.S., American trainers and owners appear to be unwilling to risk a drug positive upon reaching the distant shores of Hong Kong. But there is another reason we don't see American horses anymore in Hong Kong: They just aren't good enough.

American victories on dirt in the Dubai World Cup and the Dubai Golden Shaheen, even without the aid of race-day medication, come at the expense of European turf horses, second-rate locals, and imports form South Africa and South America, most of whom have done their racing on turf. But on the turf, Americans can no longer compete on an international level, as witnessed by our repeated failures in the Dubai Duty Free, Dubai Sheema Classic, Japan Cup, and the Hong Kong International Races.

Twenty European horses will line up at Sha Tin on Sunday, among them the absolutely first-rate Dylan Thomas, Excellent Art, Darjina, Red Rocks, Quijano, Doctor Dino, Ramonti, Benbaun, and Marchand d'Or. Their strong presence and the American absence (despite a total of 65 free nominations made by American trainers at the original entry stage) will be noted by observers throughout Europe and Asia, where horsemen will be forgiven if they begin to think that their American counterparts lack what is necessary to compete on the international stage.