SYDNEY trainer Bob Thomsen could be excused for feeling that his Caulfield Cup aspirations for quality galloper Silk Ali may have been 12 months premature when he saddles the gelding for today's rich Hong Kong International Cup over 1,800 metres. For it was only two months ago, October 16 to be precise, that Thomsen was in the mounting yard at Caulfield saddling Silk Ali for what he believed would result in him receiving his greatest prize as a trainer. Silk Ali burst into calculations for the Caulfield Cup following his strong win over the imported galloper Maraakiz in the Group Two Coongy Handicap the previous Wednesday and Thomsen, like many others, believed that the Caulfield Cup trophy would be his. But it was not to be, Silk Ali, well supported to start a solid 6-1 chance, had an interrupted run before finishing fifth, beaten just a half length, behind another import in the David Hayes-trained Fraar. Here is where the similarities and hope for the future lie for Thomsen. Fraar raced in the International Cup last season and finished a close-up second to Kiwi, Romanee Conti, after a daring ride by Michael Clarke. Fraar returned to Australia, not a national hero but hardly with his reputation lost, and after enjoying a little success at the Autumn carnivals in Sydney and Melbourne he was packed off to the spelling paddock to be readied for the spring. No one took him seriously when he returned but the import was to grab national headlines in the ensuing months when taking the Caulfield Cup. His two subsequent runs were fair but the galloper had made his mark on the Australian racing scene, his name forever etched in the record books as the winner of the 1993 Caulfield Cup. Racing rarely gives second chances but with Silk Ali, Thomsen has a genuine racehorse, a horse that strives under pressure and one that doesn't give in when it is time to fight. His Caulfield Cup effort showed that and his two runs following that were full of excuses. Heavily supported from 6-1 into 7-2 for the Group Two Dalgety over 2,500 metres on Derby Day at Flemington, the gelding reefed, pulled and raced wide ruining any chance and, as a result, his Melbourne Cup credentials faded. His jockey Grant Cooksley reported a similar fate when the gelding lined up in Australasia's greatest handicap. The 3,200 metres of the Cup and a very wet Flemington track saw Silk Ali perform way below what was expected of him. Thomsen immediately freshened the gelding to get him ready for Hong Kong. It is now all systems go for Silk Ali. His form entering the event is far superior to what Fraar's was last year - fair form considering that behind Fraar in 1992 was the French mare Urban Sea who defeated the best the world could offer in the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamps early in October. The Caulfield Cup, and indeed the Melbourne Cup, would have provided Thomsen with his racing highlight but the Invitation Cup will do, not that he needs to prove himself as a trainer. Silk Ali has always promised and he is about ready to deliver, after all this time last year while Fraar was getting ready for Hong Kong, Silk Ali took a Welter Handicap at Rosehill before heading to Melbourne to finish a fighting second, albeit in receipt of weight, to Naturalism in the Grey-Smith Stakes at Flemington on the final day of the Spring carnival. And while Naturalism jetted off to Tokyo to finish second in the Japan Cup, Silk Ali rose to prominence by taking the Group Two Sandown Cup. He then campaigned through the Christmas period before returning at the end of the Autumn for minor races before being prepared for the rich Winter Carnival in Brisbane, winning the listed Chairman's Handicap and finishing third behind Barbut Delcia in the Brisbane Cup over 3,200 metres at Eagle Farm. The signs are certainly there that Silk Ali can go one better than Fraar last year, and then return to Australia and emulate that galloper at Caulfield in the spring of 1994.