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Cirrus des Aigles out of Hong Kong Cup

California Memory aims to become the first two-time winner of the Cup (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Sunday's Group 1 Hong Kong Cup lost its main attraction on Friday when Cirrus des Aigles was withdrawn due to a tendon injury in his left foreleg. Most recently runner-up to Frankel in the Group 1 Champion Stakes, the world-class French gelding was by far the highest-rated horse in the Cup with an international rating of 130.

Cirrus des Aigles was Europe's best hope in the 1 1/4-mile feature at Sha Tin. Now the remaining members of Team Europe -- The Queen's Carlton House, France's Saonois and Giofra and Germany's Feuerblitz -- will seek to bolster the Continent's recent stats in the Cup, with seven of the last 10 winners being European-based.

The European trend was bucked last year, however, by Hong Kong's own California Memory. The defending champion, who now boasts the highest international rating in the field (120), will try to make history as the first two-time Cup winner. Trained by Tony Cruz, the diminutive gray is taking the same path as last year by prepping in the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup at this course and distance. California Memory was only fourth in that tune-up in 2011, but this time, he got up in time to capture the November 18 renewal.

Just missing in a blanket finish to the Jockey Club Cup was the John Moore-trained duo of Irian and Zaidan. Irian has finished second in the past two runnings of the Hong Kong Cup, edged by Snow Fairy in 2010 before checking in a length behind California Memory last year. Zaidan, winner of the Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Cup in February, was a clear second to Chinchon in the Group 1 Singapore Airlines International Cup at Kranji in May. The Jockey Club Cup was his second start off a layoff, and the Street Cry gelding is entitled to move forward in the big event.

The Queen's Carlton House launches a raid before joining Gai Waterhouse in Australia (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Moore will also be represented by Military Attack, who looms as an intriguing dark horse, and Dan Excel, the fourth-place finisher in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile who could take up the pacesetting role. Military Attack was an up-and-coming handicapper in England, where he was named Rave. Yet to fulfill that promise in Hong Kong, he has put up a few useful efforts, and stepping back up in distance here could help. In his only prior attempt at the trip, Military Attack was a sneaky sixth in the Group 1 Hong Kong Derby in March.

Rounding out the local squad is Autumn Gold, a German import who has acclimated remarkably fast for Sean Woods. Third in a solid German Group 3 in April under the name of Auenturm, he was a fast-finishing fifth in the Jockey Club Cup in just his second Hong Kong appearance.

Another expected Hong Kong representative, Sweet Orange, was scratched Friday because of lameness in his right front fetlock.

In the absence of Cirrus des Aigles, the internationals are headed by Carlton House, who launches this hit-and-run on the way to his new headquarters in Australia. Although the royal colorbearer hasn't delivered on the big occasion -- finishing third as last year's Group 1 Derby favorite and runner-up to So You Think in the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes this summer -- he does bring top-class form and is arguably at his best at this trip.

Saonois has been a Cinderella story (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Carlton House scored his major victories at about 1 1/4 miles in the Group 2 Dante Stakes at three and in the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes in his 2012 debut. Fourth in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II over an inadequate mile last out in his return from a break, the son of Street Cry is qualified to break through at the highest level in his last start for Sir Michael Stoute.

Saonois has been one of the surprise packages of the European season, progressing from the winter all-weather circuit to become an unlikely classic hero in the Group 1 Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby). The little colt showed that was no fluke by beating Bayrir next out in the Group 2 Prix Niel.

His low-key connections -- the baker Pascal Treyve and provincial trainer Jean-Pierre Gauvin, reportedly turned down a 7 million offer from Qatari interests. Supplemented to the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Saonois got stuck in the Longchamp mud and wound up 15th in the only unplaced effort of his life. To recover his Cinderella-story mantle here, he must defy the daunting stats against three-year-old colts in this race.

The lightly-raced filly Giofra hails from the yard of Alain de Royer-Dupre, who sent out the top mare Pride to win the 2006 Hong Kong Cup. After defeating males in the Group 2 Prix d'Harcourt in her 2012 bow, the daughter of Dansili finished best of the rest behind Cirrus des Aigles in the Group 1 Prix Ganay. Giofra earned her first Group 1 laurel in the Falmouth Stakes on soft ground at Newmarket, slogging past Elusive Kate and leaving Siyouma back in third. She has been beaten in her last pair, a sixth in a loaded renewal of the Group 1 Prix Jean Romanet and a third in the Group 1 Prix de l'Opera in bottomless conditions on Arc Day, but is eligible to put her best foot forward at Sha Tin.

Giofra is highly regarded by trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Feuerblitz hasn't won since his hard-fought decision in the Group 2 Derby Italiano in May, but the Michael Figge pupil has turned in three straight runner-up performances in Group 1s -- the Grosser Preis von Bayern, Preis von Europa and Premio Roma. Like Saonois, and his erstwhile compatriot Autumn Gold, Feuerblitz will try to become the first sophomore colt to take the Cup.

At the opposite end of the age spectrum is Australia's Alcopop, the oldest horse in the field at the age of eight. Sixth as the favorite in the Group 1 Melbourne Cup in 2009, the Jeune gelding was second to So You Think in the Group 1 Yalumba in 2010, and has been in the form of his life at the recent Melbourne Spring Carnival. In the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes, Alcopop was runner-up to subsequent Group 1 Cox Plate star Ocean Park, and in the Group 1 Caulfield Cup, he was just denied by Dunaden. Alcopop finally scored a Group 1 in the November 3 Mackinnon, turning the tables on Ocean Park. The Jake Stephens charge aims to give Australia only its second win in this race, the first courtesy of State Taj back in 1994.

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