Ambitious Dragon to redeem himself
Racing fans are presented with a classic form analysis conundrum in the HK$12 million BMW Champions Mile at Sha Tin, with a horse coming off a career high against the horse coming off a career low but Ambitious Dragon gets his chance to redeem himself.
Had you arrived from Mars and seen a one-horse race, the Dubai Duty Free - or alternatively from Europe and seen only two races, add the Hong Kong Cup where Ambitious Dragon also failed - you might wonder why we are having this discussion.
In Dubai, Cityscape (James Doyle) was a comprehensive winner. Some behind suffered interference, didn't get the right positioning or simply didn't turn up, but nobody thought anyone else should have won.
It was a career highlight for the Roger Charlton-trained Cityscape and the black and white of a race result on a page hardly allows for a different result today. He races handy to what looks modest speed, he showed with his unlucky defeat in the Hong Kong Mile that he acts at Sha Tin and he has the record of a good horse, 17 starts for 13 top two finishes. It won't surprise if he wins and doesn't surprise that rival trainers are keen, as trainers are known to like last-start four-length winners.
So much for the Cityscape case. What of the case against him?
Well, start with only two foreign placegetters since the race went international, but that overlooks the scarcity of serious foreign prospects previously.
Then you could look at the history of the Dubai race. They were Nad Al Sheba not Meydan but Gladiatorus (2009), David Junior (2006), Elvstroem (2005), Ipi Tombe (2003), Key Of Luck (1996), Altibr (1999) and Annus Mirabilis (1998) all won the Duty Free at least as easily. Ipi Tombe might have been worth her three lengths but others have been questionable.
Annus Mirabilis won by six lengths, then got rolled as 1-5 favourite in Italy and won only once more in five starts. Elvstroem failed to win again. Gladiatorus managed one win in Italy after and David Junior did win an Eclipse Stakes two runs later, but was flogged as favourite coming off Dubai. And Key Of Luck was the grand daddy - a 20-length Duty Free winner, he was beaten in all four remaining starts.
Then there's the consideration that, had Ambitious Dragon (Douglas Whyte) never gone to Dubai, he would be favourite. The world-wide betting market for the Duty Free thought his was the better form going into Meydan, a 2-1 pop against Cityscape at 8-1. Ambitious Dragon was upset by factors to do with training and wild fireworks and was not himself in the parade or race - borne out by Xtension beating him comfortably, and he eats Xtension with some fava beans and a nice chianti any other day.
Meanwhile, Cityscape got a perfect trip for the run of his life. Now the question is, at his third overseas trip in five months, whether he can bring that run again, today or ever.
It's a Bell Curve scenario - the horse coming off a spike in form is more likely to run below that, while the horse who disappointed is more likely to produce something like his regulation - and that would be good enough for Ambitious Dragon to win.
Not that there aren't holes in his prospects. As has been documented, more than 20 Hong Kong horses have campaigned in Dubai and only seven ever won again.
Ifs and buts galore, but a more normal version of Ambitious Dragon can beat Cityscape, but if the negatives count against both then the John Size-trained Glorious Days (Felix Coetzee) will be there to pick up the pieces.