TWELVE days to go and counting before champion River Verdon and the up-and-coming Helene Star are asked to step out for their International Cup and Bowl targets. With the overseas runners having virtually completed their preparations, there are very genuine hopes for a Hongkong double in the showpiece events. It is never easy to sift through and assess form from three continents but, even allowing for that, River Verdon's chances in the $4.5 million Cup appear outstanding. He looked in great nick when winning the Gold Cup the weekend before last and is probably at least of genuine Group Two class if campaigned in Europe. Over 2,400 metres, he could be even better. There is certainly nothing to be worried about in the form of his opponents save for the locally-owned but French-trained Urban Risks. The filly comes here in form and with some quality placed efforts against top horses last season. England's Mellottie and Half A Tick are solid performers but nowhere near top quality. They could have place prospects. The Australian and New Zealand horses look weak compared to previous seasons. The best of them may be the filly Romanee Conti but her staying on third in the Group Three Queen of the Turf Stakes on Saturday is hardly good enough. The Queen of the Turf Stakes, for fillies and mares, is usually an ordinary contest. The North American runners are at a huge disadvantage because of the travel factor and it may be that they have campaigned on lasix or bute in their home jurisdictions. This remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, they won't be able to race on medication here. In the $3.5 million Bowl, Australia's Zaparri could represent the biggest threat to Helene Star. He has won six of his last seven and will run out a strong 1,400 metres. As a three-year-old he looked like being a top performer and, after recovering from serious tendon problems, is now beginning to fulfil that considerable early promise. The other Australian runner, Storaia, is a big chance on his second to Schillachi in the Group One Newmarket 12 months ago but he can't live on that effort forever. Essentially, he has been a trifle disappointing since though master handler Lee Freedman has trained him specifically for Hongkong. The Irish raider, Diamonds Galore, must also be afforded plenty of respect as he was a leading North American sprinter last season and has since been moved to Dermot Weld who won the Bowl 12 months ago. Diamonds Galore has had a run and is said to be working extremely well. YOU know your entry system is not working when 17 horses are on the reserve list for a mundane Class Three mile event on the equitrack, or when 20 are listed as reserves for a Class Four sprint at the Valley. Don't worry, it gets worse. There are 27 reserves for a Class Two sprint at the Valley a week tomorrow and 17 and 18 for Class Three and Class Four mile handicaps on the same day. Nor does it stop there. At Sha Tin there are 26 reserves for a forthcoming Class Four race over 1,400 metres and 26 for a Class Five handicap. The system has been tinkered with but what it needs is a fundamental overhaul. These massive reserve lists clearly indicate that another race could and should have been framed from the entries received. The only problem is the current system does not allow it. So when is it going to be changed? DARE the topic of the Grand National be raised? Why not. Yes, it was a complete shambles and no, it won't be bet on in Hongkong again. There are no complaints about that as the bracketing system was always going to mitigate against any value. But it would be avoiding the facts to argue the race did not captivate the local and expatriate betting public gathered at the Valley. They loved the spectacle and let's hope the world's greatest chase will continue to be shown - though not bet on - out here. If only because racegoers have not had so much fun in years.