Connections of the runners for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races 2005.

Connections of the runners for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races 2005.

Hong Kong Jockey Club

U.S. Connections Like What They See in Hong Kong

The connections of United States-based runners seemed no less satisfied after the post-position draw for the Dec. 11 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races at Sha Tin racecourse. In all, the four group I grass races, worth a total of HK$64 million, lured 49 horses from around the world.

The U.S. will be represented by Robert Alexander's Willow O Wisp in the HK$18-million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup at 2,000 meters; David and Holly Wilson's Designed For Luck in the HK$14-million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile at 1,600 meters; and Dare To Dream Stable's Nicole's Dream in the HK$10-million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint. There is no U.S. representative in the other stakes, the HK$14-million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase at 2,400 meters.

The Dec. 8 post draw in the paddock and walking ring area at Sha Tin drove home the nature of the relationship between the Hong Kong Jockey Club and sponsor Cathay Pacific, the world's third most profitable airline according to a release. In short, there's no mistaking the event's sponsor.

Representatives of each horse stood at podiums that resembled airline check-in points. They first drew giant luggage tags, each of which had a horse's name, and then picked out a suitcase with the respective post. The entire event was broadcast on a huge overhead video screen that was instantly updated as the post for each horse was drawn. Cathay Pacific flight attendants took part in the draw.

There were even group photos of all the participants taken after each draw.

The U.S. connections said they were impressed with the level of attention provided by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which has made a point to build upon the success of the International Races. California-based trainer Vladimir Cerin, who will saddle Designed For Luck and Willow O Wisp, said the commitment shows in the quality of the fields.

"We're just glad to be here," Cerin said after the draw, "but the competition here is a lot tougher than it used to be. I've been watching it, and it's much tougher now than it was."

Cerin said he's not much for pageantry--in California he spends most of his time at the barn and just takes horses over for their races--but appreciates the effort made for owners in Hong Kong. "The people here are so polite," he said. "It's disarming."

Brothers Michael and Allen Faber, who head the Dare To Dream Stable partnership, agreed.

"It's a far cry from the states," said Michael Faber, manager of the partnership that owns Nicole's Dream. "They really cater to owners here."

The brothers said they met Hong Kong Jockey Club officials during this year's Arlington Million (gr. IT) program in Illinois, where they're based, and were ecstatic when they got the invitation to compete in Hong Kong. Nicole's Dream, trained by Larry Rivelli, is a Midwest-based turf sprinter who had run out of options the latter part of the year.

The 5-year-old Northern Trend mare is no stranger to making trips--this year alone she competed at seven different tracks in her 10 starts--so Hong Kong became an option.

"She ships really well," Michael Faber said. "If she wasn't a great shipper, we'd have to think about it. But she shipped OK."

Nicole's Dream, one of two females in the Sprint, drew post 13 in a 13-horse field. But Allen Faber said the connections "couldn't have asked for a better draw" given the nature of the race: It's a straight 1,000 meters, so Nicole's Dream will actually break along the "rail" because the race will be clockwise.

Nicole's Dream, to be ridden by regular pilot E.T. Baird, defeated males in the Taylor's Special Stakes at Arlington in September. In her last start at Hawthorne Race Course, she raced on the dirt, clearly not her surface of choice.

Cerin said Willow O Wisp, a 3-year-old Misnomer gelding who won this year's Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) in course-record time, has enough early foot that post position shouldn't matter. "It's probably better being on the outside," he said of Willow O Wisp, who drew post eight in a 10-horse field.

Willow O Wisp, five-for-12 in his career, picks up the services of jockey Kieran Fallon.

Designed For Luck, Cerin's other starter, won last year's Shoemaker Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park, then suffered a suspensory injury and was sidelined until this year. The 8-year-old Rahy gelding finished second to 2004 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) winner Singletary in the Oak Tree Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita Park in October in his comeback race.

Edgar Prado has the call aboard Designed For Luck, winner of 10 of 27 starts in his career.

Here are the fields, in post-position order, for the four Hong Kong International Races:

Vase (12 horses): Norse Dancer, Reefscape, Sweet Stream, Shamdala, Saturn, Westerner, Ouija Board, Best Gift, Samando, Warrsan, Six Sense, and Cherry Mix.

Sprint (13 horses): Planet Ruler, Majestic Missile, Natural Blitz, Chineur, Admire Max, Nipping, Cape Of Good Hope, Absolute Champion, Warcat, Country Music, Able Prince, Benbaun, and Nicole's Dream.

Mile (14 horses): Scintillation, High Intelligent, Rakti, Dave's Best, Bullish Luck, Perfect Partner, Wealthy, Designed For Luck, Super Kid, Town Of Fionn, Hat Trick, Court Masterpiece, The Duke, and Asakusa Den'en.

Cup (10 horses): Alexander Goldrun, River Dancer, Pride, Vengeance Of Rain, Maraahel, Touch Of Land, Russian Pearl, Willow O Wisp, Green Treasure, and Epalo.

Post time for the first of the four stakes, the Vase, is set for 2:10 p.m. Hong Kong time.

The festivities got under way the evening of Dec. 7 when the Hong Kong Jockey Club hosted the Cathay Pacific International Jockeys' Championship, which was won by Andrasch Starke of Germany. Though business was down from the same day last year, attendance on the Wednesday evening at Happy Valley racecourse in downtown Hong Kong was almost 20,000; total handle came in at HK$667.6 (about $85 million) for only seven races.