Ambitious Dragon's date with destiny
He may have passed his peak for this season, but Ambitious Dragon can still make history by winning the Triple Crown in the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup today at Sha Tin.
The Stewards' Cup and Gold Cup winner, Ambitious Dragon (Umberto Rispoli) will be the first to complete the Triple Crown in 18 years, only the second horse to do it and he will do it over 2,400m in the final leg, not the 2,200m that River Verdon had to run.
The question is not whether Ambitious Dragon is too good for his rivals - he is. And the question is not whether he will stay 2,400m - his style suggests he will in this racing environment where true tests of stamina are rare once the races get beyond 1,600m.
Everything centres on whether Ambitious Dragon, or a close replica, turns up at 4.05pm today for his date with history.
Twice this season, Ambitious Dragon has gone off the boil - when he was flat and beaten into fourth in the Hong Kong Cup in December and then when there were extenuating circumstances to his failure in Dubai - and he bounced back well from the first, and tolerably well from the second.
Tolerably well because, although knocked down early in what was a slowly-run Champions Mile last start, he did make up ground cheaply along the rail on the turn and then closed off OK with the tempo against him but he was still outfinished by Glorious Days, and that is not Ambitious Dragon at his best.
The danger now is that the Dragon is attempting his longest test at a time when he is right at the end of his tether. That means there is potential for him not to just be beaten but to fail badly, but if he can hang on to even a repeat of the Champions Mile run - which itself was well below his best - he can still win today.
But it will be no pushover to beat the John Moore-trained Dominant (Douglas Whyte) in what looks a match up, with knockout chances to Irian (Brett Prebble) and Liberator (Weichong Marwing).
Dominant has quite a bit to make up on Ambitious Dragon. He goes from a race where he was the horse overwhelmingly favoured by the handicaps to a race where his main rival is that horse.
However, unlike Ambitious Dragon, Dominant looks well suited at the 2,400m and is still on the way up this season. Although he has had only two fewer races, Dominant hasn't had a trip to Dubai and he didn't start until after New Year. All of which will serve to close what is a wide gap on face value.
He was able to pick himself up again at the 200m in the Queen Mother Memorial Cup to go on and win convincingly over Liberator, who was slightly flattered by the margin even allowing for some use being made of that horse when the pace was slow in mid-race.
The historical point in favour of Ambitious Dragon is that wins in the Champions & Chater Cup and the Queen Mother Memorial have been mutually exclusive - since it has been run before the Champions & Chater or when it was run afterwards, no winner of the handicap event has ever won the Group One.
Despite the race coming late in the term when the stars of Hong Kong racing have always had plenty to do already, theirs are the names that populate the Champions & Chater list and Ambitious Dragon certainly belongs among them.
Years since a horse won the Triple Crown