11/29/2001 1:00AM

Val Royal tops Hong Kong rankings


The American contingent for the Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin on Dec. 16 has dwindled to five horses, but three are the highest rated in their races by an international panel of handicappers.

Val Royal, scratched from the Citation Handicap on Saturday because of the soft ground, carries a rating of 124 into the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup, in which he will face Jim and Tonic. Forbidden Apple, runner-up to Val Royal in the Breeders' Cup Mile, is high-rated at 121 for the Hong Kong Mile.

Nuclear Debate, fifth in the Hollywood Turf Express, is top rated at 120 for his third start in the five-furlong Hong Kong Sprint. Morluc, second by a head in last year's Sprint, is third-highest-rated this year at 114.

California-raced White Heart, sixth in Sunday's Japan Cup, was shipped to Hong Kong from Tokyo on Wednesday for a go at the 1 1/2-mile Hong Kong Vase. White Heart is the second-highest-rated horse in the Vase, at 116.