Return of the Dragon’
30 January 2012
Four days after Sha Tin’s Chinese New Year raceday welcomed in the Year of the Dragon, the iconic racetrack witnessed the ‘Return of the Dragon’ as Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year swept to a scintillating victory in the HKG1 Stewards’ Cup.
The Tony Millard-trained Pins gelding Ambitious Dragon headed into the 1600m contest, the 1st Leg of Hong Kong’s Triple Crown, with a point to prove after tasting defeat in his two previous outings, most recently when fourth to the Tony Cruz-trained California Memory in the 2000m G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup at the track on 11 December.
Ridden once again by champion jockey Douglas Whyte, Ambitious Dragon consigned those defeats to history as he posted a performance of the utmost class; sprinting clear when asked inside the final 300m and then cruising past the post a length and a quarter clear of the John Moore-trained Xtension, with old rival, the late-closing California Memory, a further three quarters of a length back in third.
“He’s back from that bad experience, that’s the main thing, he’s back!” said a delighted Millard. “I was a bit more confident today. Going into the Hong Kong Cup, we didn’t have a good run-in; he had a bad prep and going into the International race was just too hard.”
Millard, who is confident in the five-year-old’s ability at a range of distances, will now point his charge at the 2nd Leg of the Triple Crown, the HKG1 Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup over 2000m.
“I’m not somebody who puts the cart in front of the horse,” continued Millard, “but we will definitely go for the 2000m and then we will decide what we are going to do, but we are definitely going race by race.
“I don’t think the mile and a half (of the HKG1 Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup – 3rd Leg) will be a problem the way this horse can turn it on. Even today, I thought that Douglas could have gone a little bit later; he has a phenomenal turn of speed, the way that he can make it up.
“From my point of view, which is 5 cents worth, maybe it was a little bit too close – a length and a quarter was closer than I would have liked – but they didn’t go very fast and Douglas read the race very well.
“I think Ambitious Dragon is a true champion – he hasn’t got a (best) distance.”
Whyte, who rode a controlled race aboard the star attraction and even allowed himself a victory salute at the wire, was thrilled by the manner of success.
“He has the most scintillating turn of foot,” said the rider. “He turns it on so quickly, it’s fascinating. I’ve never felt a turn of foot on a horse like that before.
“It’s never easy, it always looks easy afterwards. He had an awkward alley with speed around him and some slow horses as well. It was always going to boil down to the pace of the race. As it worked out, in hindsight, it was an even tempo, there was no cracking gallop, but there was an even tempo and I was fortunate enough to be in a more prominent position than we planned. That was just due to the lack of speed and my horse carrying me into the race at the right time.”
In a 14-strong field that contained nine horses rated in the recently published World Thoroughbred Rankings, Ambitious Dragon was rated highest on 122 and lived up to his top billing, stopping the clock in a time of 1m 34.93s.
Thumbs Up, runner-up to Dunaden in the G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase over 2400m on 11 December, finished a creditable two and a quarter lengths back in fourth over the shorter distance.
The remaining two legs of the Hong Kong Triple Crown are the Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) on 26 February and the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) on 27 May.