Mighty Dragon 'is the one we all have to beat'
Douglas Whyte may have a detailed insight into favourite Ambitious Dragon going into Sunday's Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup, but the champion jockey shrugs off any notion that gives him a head start to causing an upset.
Whyte is looking for his third Champions & Chater on John Moore-trained Dominant, having won the race on Cheers Hong Kong (2001) for Ivan Allan and on Packing Winner for Peter Ho Leung, when he rolled long odds-on favourite Viva Pataca in 2008.
Sunday's HK$8 million final Group One of the term shapes similarly. Ambitious Dragon, the reigning Horse of the Year, is attempting to be the first horse in history to win the Triple Crown of Stewards' Cup, Gold Cup and Champions & Chater in its current configuration of 1,600m, 2,000m and 2,400m. Only River Verdon, 18 years ago, has won the Triple Crown but the final leg was over 2,200m.
Victory carries a HK$5 million bonus for Ambitious Dragon's owners, and he is sure to be a red-hot favourite but without Whyte on his back after he and trainer Tony Millard fell out following the horse's Champions Mile defeat this month. 'He's the horse we all have to beat. At level weights, Ambitious Dragon is undoubtedly the best handicapped horse and if you look at the handicapper's ratings, every horse has to make a big jump in form to beat him,' says Whyte, but he knows that handicap ratings aren't everything once the gates open.
Even when he was the regular rider of Ambitious Dragon, taking out three Group Ones on the horse up to 2,000m, Whyte (pictured) harboured doubts about the horse staying 2,400m strongly.
'I haven't got any magical clue how to beat him because I've ridden him often. A lot will depend on how Umberto Rispoli rides him and it might just come down to whether he stays the distance or not,' Whyte said.
'What I am sure of is my horse. Dominant won at 2,400m last time out and I don't have any questions over whether he can stay the distance or not.
'The weights are the big hurdle but if Dominant is going to be one of our top horses next season, that's a step up he needs to make.'
Two of the past six runnings of the race have been on soft ground and the Durban Demon said he would be more confident if rain did come.
'Being a UK horse, he does give the feel that a bit of cut in the ground would enhance his chances. And I hope there'll be a good gallop, that would be better for everyone,' Whyte said.
With just six runners, and a history of the race being run haltingly, tempo will be a factor again but it isn't clear cut who that might suit.
'Some people might think a slow pace would mean Ambitious Dragon didn't get a real test at the 2,400m, that he would outsprint them, but that overlooks the fact that he has to drop his head,' Whyte said.
'A stop-start pace might get him fighting the rider and that would work against him running out the trip. Dominant relaxes beautifully, and then quickens, as he showed the other day with a stop-start tempo, but I'd prefer a decent gallop all the same.'
Meanwhile, freelance jockey Howard Cheng Yue-tin has lodged notice of an appeal against the severity of the 13-meeting suspension stewards handed him on Wednesday. Cheng was found guilty of not taking all reasonable or permissible measures to obtain the best possible finish on My Name Is Bond on May 16 at Sha Tin.