Updated on 09/16/2011 8:51AM

World's fastest turf sprinter


HONG KONG - The fastest horse in the United States this year was Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Orientate, but you would get an argument about whether he is the best sprinter in the world from the connections of Falvelon, the Australian speedster who will be seeking a third consecutive victory in Sunday's five-furlong Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin Racecourse.

In truth, comparing the two is folly. Orientate, though versatile, was best at six furlongs on dirt. Falvelon excels on turf, at five furlongs, and not a jump more, as demonstrated by his narrow victories in this race the past two years.

Should he win Sunday, Falvelon will become the first horse to score a hat trick in the International Races. It would be an amazing feat, since the four International Races regularly attract horses from North America, Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia.

The best-known horse running this year is Grandera, the globetrotting Godolphin color-bearer who has raced with distinction in Europe, Singapore, and Australia this season. Grandera most recently finished third in the Cox Plate. He has won three Group 1 races this year, including the Irish Champion Stakes. North America's representatives this year are Delta Form, Falcon Flight, Sarafan, and Texas Glitter.

The reason they come here is the prize money. And the perks.

The International Races join the Dubai World Cup card and Breeders' Cup Day as the richest days in racing. The Hong Kong Sprint, worth approximately $1.28 million, is the richest race in the world at five furlongs on turf. The other races - the Hong Kong Mile, the 1 1/2-mile Hong Kong Vase, and the 1 1/4-mile Hong Kong Cup - are worth more than that, with the Hong Kong Cup the day's richest race, at approximately $2.4 million.

Grandera goes in the Hong Kong Cup, which is the final leg of the World Racing Series. Grandera's points in that series give him an insurmountable lead, no matter how he performs on Sunday. Since Grandera is owned by Sheikh Mohammed's Godolphin Racing, and since the series is coordinated by Sheikh Mohammed he will basically be transferring the bonus money from one pocket to another.

In addition to the prize money, the Hong Kong Jockey Club entices owners, trainers, and jockeys by inviting their horses, then footing most of the bill. Transportation for each horse is subsidized. The principal owner of each horse, as well as the trainer and jockey, each get a pair of business-class tickets to Hong Kong, then get their hotel rooms paid for, too.

So is it any wonder why Dan Bougoure, the trainer of Falvelon, points to this event?

"We try to have him right for this day, because it's the highest prize money he can run for," Bougoure said Wednesday morning at Sha Tin. "He's getting older. It takes him a little bit longer to recover from his races. But this is probably the best he's been."

Falvelon had his final work on Wednesday, cantering six furlongs on turf. His final quarter-mile, the only portion of the work where he was really allowed to roll, was timed in 22.20 seconds under jockey Damien Oliver, who has the mount on Sunday.

"If anything," Oliver said, "he's probably even more relaxed this year now that he's so accustomed to being here."

"It's a difficult assignment," Bougoure said. "But I think we've got the right horse."

Fresh is better, if not best

One of the advantages a horse like Falvelon has in the International Races is that he is fresh, with the racing season in Australia having recently begun, whereas horses racing in the Northern Hemisphere are at the end of their season.

Because of that, the International Races frequently been have unable to lure prominent horses from the Breeders' Cup. This year, Domedriver, the upset winner of the Breeders' Cup Mile, was scheduled to run in the Hong Kong Mile, but he was taken out of the race earlier this week because of an abscess in his right hind hoof.

Wednesday, Ulundi, who was being prepared for the Hong Kong Cup, was withdrawn because of a lingering illness following his trip from the United Kingdom. He had a fever and a runny nose. Like Domedriver, Ulundi is at the end of a long season, which includes a fourth-place finish in the Arlington Million.

* Disappointing all who anticipated his comic antics, trainer Julio Canani was unable to come to Hong Kong to saddle his horse Cayoke in the Hong Kong Mile. Bloodstock agent Hubert Guy, who buys many horses in Europe for Canani, will saddle for Canani on Sunday.

* How exclusive is the Hong Kong Jockey Club? Only members can bid on the 2-year-olds offered at a sale Friday night. And the dress code is black tie.