Champions Mile

Horse of the Year honours riding on overseas 'tiebreaker'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2012, 12:00am


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With just the Champions & Chater remaining on this season's domestic Group One scene, the Horse of the Year honours look delicately poised and might be decided on foreign soil.

In our opinion, Ambitious Dragon is the best horse in action here and was a clear choice for the season's champion in 2010-11, but defeats out of the placings this term in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup, Dubai Duty Free and BMW Champions Mile - his three headline assignments - have served to make his hold on the title somewhat slippery.

The five-year-old has won twice at Group One level in the Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup and Stewards' Cup, but both are domestic races, and Lucky Nine has also won two Group Ones and one of those was an international event in the Hong Kong Sprint. Statistically speaking, that is entitled to give Caspar Fownes' sprinter-miler at least as strong a claim on the honours as Ambitious Dragon.

The Group One scene has been a mixed bag, with 12 different horses taking the 14 majors contested, and only these two horses have won more than once at elite level.

That is going to make it a tougher choice for some of the individual champion categories and when there are no real standouts in the categories, there can't be any overall.

However, international events with Hong Kong participants in Singapore, England and Japan are looming, and victory in any of them could make a strong case for Horse of the Year honours.

Winning a Group One is not easy. Winning an international Group One is usually more difficult. And doing that away from home is generally regarded as the pinnacle of achievement.

If Lucky Nine wins the Yasuda Kinen, then he would have a full hand with one of each and would be fully entitled to be Horse of the Year.

Even if California Memory or Xtension win in Singapore - or Japan for that matter, as we understand the Yasuda Kinen has not yet been ruled out by Xtension's owner - that would give either of them two international Group Ones, including one away from home. That would make a strong case for the title, even though nobody could look back over the term and describe them as prolific winners.

For Ambitious Dragon, his season may be over, although trainer Tony Millard said on Sunday there remained one option for the horse, with a decision on starting still to be made.

He doesn't appear in the entries for Japan so that can mean only an attempt on the Champions & Chater Cup at 2,400 metres, and victory would make Ambitious Dragon the first Triple Crown winner since River Verdon in 1993-94, and only the second ever.

That would be an enormous achievement, given the degree of difficulty over three such different distances as 1,600m, 2,000m and 2,400m and stretched out over a four-month period.

Only then would the Horse of the Year title be a no contest.