In horse racing the world over, crowds have flocked back to the sport over the past decade as big races become even bigger social and sporting events. The Hong Kong International Race Week is no exception. For the fortunate few who are eligible to attend - and the even fewer eligible to take part - the Hong Kong International Sale is a fine event at which select young horses from the cream of the world's yearling sales in Britain, Europe, North America and Australasia are auctioned off to future owners and trainers for a career in Hong Kong. Horse-racing fans ready to brave the early morning can also buy tickets to the special Trackside Breakfast With The Stars, on Saturday December 13, to get a closer look at the international equine stars and hear commentators and guest speakers preview the following afternoon's big day of racing. But for the average race-goer, the biggest happenings are on the track, with the thrilling International Jockeys' Championship (IJC) at Happy Valley on the Wednesday night acting as a curtain raiser, and the Hong Kong International Races as the grand finale on the Sunday. The IJC is in its sixth year, with jockeys from across the globe lining up to match their skills and showcase their variety of styles over a three-race series woven into the Wednesday night meeting. With its exciting atmosphere and unique backdrop of apartment towers and high-rise lights, Happy Valley is the perfect setting for an event which has become increasingly popular with casual and regular racing fans alike. Twelve jockeys are drawn at random to lead the horses to the finish line in the three races, with points earned depending on their final position. This year, invited riders include the David Beckham of racing - wise-cracking, happy-go-lucky Italian Frankie Dettori - whose star quality is matched by his ability in the saddle. The regular jockey for the world's most important racing team, the Godolphin stable of Dubai, Dettori is already a dual winner of the IJC and looks forward to the event, where he is known for his trademark 'star jump' dismount when he rides a winner. If Dettori is the best-known jockey in European racing, his status is equalled in Japan by Yutaka Take, whose good looks and amazing record have made him a Hollywood-style star at home. Take - who equalled the world record of eight wins in a day last year just before he turned up to give the IJC a real nudge at Happy Valley after winning the first leg of the series - will return for the 2003 renewal. Young Belgian Christophe Soumillon will ride the series for the first time, representing France, where he is based, after taking all before him in Europe including wins in the French Derby and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Britain's very best, Kieren Fallon, and Australia's king, Damien Oliver, join the party again as does Hong Kong-based New Zealander Shane Dye. Aside from Dettori, previous winners invited include Germany's Andrasch Starke and last year's victor, South African wizard Douglas Whyte, riding under the Hong Kong banner after having made the local championship his private property. Whyte was thrilled to take revenge in 2002, saying: 'Hong Kong has deserved this - our riders have been close before and it's been frustrating when we've seemed to draw the good rides and then the overseas riders have come here and whipped us.' When the IJC is over, eyes turn to the four international Group One races at Sha Tin on December 14. Group One is the highest-quality tag any race can carry, and few meetings in the world boast four on one day. Run over distances of 1,000 metres, 1,600 metres, 2,000 metres and 2,400 metres, the races represent the highest aspirations of speed and stamina that have underpinned the pursuits of horse racing and breeding for centuries. And the $56 million in stakes will sweeten the deal. The races will bring contenders from powerhouse centres such as Europe, North America and Australia, along with Japan and South Africa and even Denmark, where there are just 500 horses in the whole sport. Those invited have earned their place with top performances domestically or internationally. This year they include English-trained Italian champion Falbrav, the best 2,000-metre horse in the world. Falbrav will be out to underline his claims in the final leg of the World Series championship, the Hong Kong Cup (2,000 metres). He won't find this easy, though, as Japan's Eishin Preston attempts to farewell the racetrack by taking his fourth win in an international Group One at Sha Tin. The Godolphin stable has been a major player at the International Races, but frustration must be creeping in after no wins for the past two years, and trainer Saeed bin Suroor will be turning up with the best firepower at his disposal to put that right. The $10 million Hong Kong Sprint is the world's richest 1,000-metre race, and one where Hong Kong's chances are always strong. Last year's winner and runner-up, local representatives All Thrills Too and Firebolt, will be back, as will the Hong Kong Sprint Series champion and Horse Of The Year for 2002-2003, Grand Delight. They will be joined by other Hong Kong stars including Silent Witness, which put together an unbeaten career of seven races in sealing his invitation for the field winning the International Sprint Trial on November 22. In the Mile, the Japanese are always dangerous, with 1,600-metre racing of a top standard in the Land of the Rising Sun, but by taking three International Races wins in 2001, they have shown they are not be underestimated in any event. The world will come to Sha Tin, but Hong Kong will be waiting. Top trainers such as David Hayes, John Size, David Oughton, Tony Cruz and the maestro Ivan Allan will send out runners capable not merely of holding their own, but of giving the raiders something to think about for their trip home, as they did last year when Hong Kong runners kept all but one of the trophies at home.