LOCAL champion River Verdon yesterday failed to defend his International Cup crown, plugging on without his usual fire to finish a disappointing fifth to New Zealand's Romanee Conti in the $4.5 million Sha Tin showpiece. His hallmark, that powerful late surge, was missing as he came home three lengths off the Greg Childs-ridden, Laurie Laxon-trained filly. The result, which saw Australian's Fraar second and America's luckless Charmonnier third, stunned the 68,000 Sha Tin crowd into a glum silence - matching the damp and dreary conditions. Trainer David Hill was offering no excuses for his horse. Hill pointed out: ''Every horse puts in one bad run. I could just have done without it being today.'' Melbourne Cup-winning Laxon, who narrowly lost out to Ivan Allan in the rush for the expatriate trainer's licence for this season, is a man Hongkong racegoers can expect to hear much more of. ''I'd be here in a shot. There's no better place to train but I gather I have to wait for one more expatriate trainer to retire,'' stressed the 47-year-old from Cambridge on North Island. ''The Melbourne Cup remains my greatest triumph but this counts a very good second and I've won a number of Group Ones including the Mackinnon Stakes, and New Zealand 1,000 and 2,000 Guineas.'' Childs, the visiting three-month Club jockey, was riding his first winner for Laxon despite having ridden for him on plenty of occasions in New Zealand. The $3.5 million International Bowl saw Patrick Biancone's Helene Star run out a most unlucky short head second to American challenger Glen Kate on whom Corey Black, like Childs on Romanee Conti, rode a race befitting the competition from four continents. The veteran grey Quicken Away, also trained by Biancone, was all heart and resolution as he stuck his neck out for third. Helene Star was held up for a run coming inside the 400-metre marker when looking all over the winner. When Gerald Mosse got the gap it was a fraction too late. Black and Glen Kate had flown. ''You can never be happy when you lose a race you should have won,'' sighed a resigned Biancone. Glen Kate is trained by the legendary Bill Shoemaker and jointly owned by Canadian ice hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall, owner of Gretzky's club, the Los Angeles Kings. Neither were at Sha Tin.