Desert raiders hold aces in star-studded showdown

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 December, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 December, 1997, 12:00am

Sheik Mohammed, who warned this week that he will pull the plug on British racing unless it is better funded, should have no concern on that score at Sha Tin today. The money-laden Hong Kong series gives the Sheik and his associates an excellent chance of a king-sized collect.

The world's most powerful owner sees his well-known 'Godolphin Royal Blue' colours carried by Annus Mirabilis in the Hong Kong International Cup, over 1,800 metres, and on what has been witnessed on British tracks this year, the horse has very strong claims in an interesting race.

Luso in the Hong Kong International Vase is the other major contender representing Sheik Mohammed.

Although he carries the white and red jacket of Saeed Manana, Luso comes under the banner of Darley Stud Management, one of the Sheik's many off-shoots.

Having raced almost exclusively in Group One company across the length and breadth of Europe this season, Luso is well-credentialled and ready to notch a follow-up victory in the Vase.

He will be saddled by Clive Brittain, who has arguably the best international record of any trainer visiting Hong Kong this weekend.

But back to the International Cup, in which Annus Mirabilis officially represents the United Arab Emirates, although he has been a familiar participant in races on British tracks throughout the year.

One of his best wins came in a small conditions races at Windsor in August when he proved far too able and strong for Even Top, the Mark Tompkins-trained galloper who has never really lived up to the promise he displayed when runner-up to Mark Of Esteem - and one place ahead of Bijou D'Inde - in the 1996 Two Thousand Guineas at Newmarket.

Before joining Godolphin, Annus Mirabilis was trained in Newmarket by Michael Stoute.

One interesting story often related is that the 'Godolphin selection committee' preferred Annus Mirabilis to Singspiel when it came time to finalise their 1996 team.

Thus they missed out on having in their yard the horse destined to become the highest prize-money winner ever trained in Europe - Singspiel, winner of the Dubai World Cup, Japan Cup and Juddmonte International.

Annus Mirabilis remains in good form, as indicated recently with a respectable fifth of 10 runners in the Man O'War Stakes in New York.

I prefer him to Wixim, to be saddled by one-time Hong Kong resident Roger Charlton.

Bijou D'Inde has been an admirable galloper, who enjoyed his finest hour on the racecourse when winning the Group One St James' Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot last year. In the frame in both the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas, he also ran a great race as a three-year-old in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes.

Despite the optimism of trainer Mark Johnston and owner Stuart Morrison, Bijou D'Inde has never really been his old self since being brought down in the Dubai World Cup in April.

Hong Kong gallopers Johan Cruyff, fourth to Desert King in the Irish Derby at The Curragh in June, and Smashing Pumpkin look better alternatives.

Luso is a confident selection in the Hong Kong International Vase, in which he should have the better of the Paul Cole-trained Posidonas.

Posidonas has run some good races in his career and the distance should suit. The British entry should prove too classy for the Australasians.

In the Hong Kong International Bowl, Decorated Hero should take advantage of a very good inside draw.

He ran so well when placed behind Spinning World in the Breeders' Cup Mile, he stands out as the form horse from Europe although reports that he travelled badly to Hong Kong do not inspire confidence.

The tough and much-travelled Wizard King, described by his trainer Sir Mark Prescott as a dream horse to prepare at home, might be the answer to a tricky contest.