Rule change and last year's success see greater presence in international races A record 19 places have been handed to local horses for the four Hong Kong international races next month, thanks to last year's celebrated three-time strike by Hong Kong representatives and the improved quality of purchases by owners. The Hong Kong Jockey Club, aware of the growing stature of the meeting and the big spending of owners, changed the rules that allowed four Hong Kong horses in each race to allow 'a minimum of four'. 'We have revised our policy that rather than having just four spaces for Hong Kong horses, we should have a minimum of four spaces,' said Ciaran Kennelly, the Jockey Club's head of handicapping and international race planning. 'This is most apparent in the Sprint, where Hong Kong has six invited runners, but is also evident in the Mile, where five local horses have been invited.' Seven-time Group One winner Falbrav - the best middle-distance horse in the world according to his trainer - has become one of the promotional lynchpins for the December 14 showpiece with his acceptance for the Cup. Although British-trained Falbrav's international rating of 126 is one pound short of the all-time Hong Kong benchmark, set last year when World Series champion Grandera contested the Hong Kong Cup, it reinforced the kind of quality the Jockey Club is seeking for our biggest day of racing. 'Falbrav is officially the highest-rated 2,000 metres horse in the world and was hailed as such by his greatly experienced trainer, Luca Cumani, after he triumphed in the Juddmonte International [Group One, 2,080m, at York] in August,' said executive director of racing Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges. 'His commitment to coming to Hong Kong is a wonderful compliment to the way this day is being seen internationally.' Last year's treble of wins by All Thrills Too, Electronic Unicorn and Precision sparked waves of patriotism as well as being the basis on which many owners invested heavily in new bloodstock this year. However, Engelbrecht-Bresges warned against unrealistic home-town expectations in the wake of last year's success. 'This year, I think, is different, and another three will not be possible,' he said. When invitations were announced yesterday, 37 international horses - including a total of 20 individual Group One winners - from 12 racing jurisdictions were selected. At the same stage 12 months ago, the stats were 37 invitees, including 18 Group One winners, from 11 countries. Hong Kong international day, with total feature-race stakes of $56 million, is the third-richest day of racing in the world, with only Dubai's World Cup programme and the US Breeders' Cup day offering bigger prizemoney. 'This year, we have attracted our most internationally diverse bunch of top-class horses,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'Spanning the globe, we have invited horses - quite a few of them Classic winners - from both hemispheres and from East and West. The Hong Kong International Races are unique in how it continues as a meeting point for the very best in international racing. 'We are not yet at our stated goal of becoming the turf world championships, but we feel we are firmly on the way,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. Perhaps the biggest surprise at yesterday's announcement was that Roosevelt - the highest-rated private purchase bought by any Hong Kong owner this year - is an intended runner in the Hong Kong Vase for last year's Hong Kong Cup-winning handler, David Oughton. Roosevelt, who is galloping and trialling strongly at Sha Tin, is scheduled to make his Hong Kong debut this weekend and will then back up in the Vase at 2,400 metres a fortnight later. 'Roosevelt ran third to the champion three-year-old Alamshar and [Horse of the Year] Dalakhani in the Irish Derby this year,' Kennelly said. One of the interesting sidelights to the HKIR announcements was the revelation that Hong Kong's unbeaten young sprinter Silent Witness had frightened away one of the best sprinters in the world this year, England's July Cup winner Oasis Dream. 'The agent representing connections of Oasis Dream was well aware of Silent Witness, and thought he might be too hard to beat over 1,000 metres at Sha Tin,' Engelbrecht-Bresges said. 'So Oasis Dream is now retired.' Godolphin will have just one runner, Firebreak in the Mile.