Horror draw fails to dent Guyon's Derby confidence
Pre-post favourite Ambitious Dragon must break a 30-year hoodoo to win the HK$16 million Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby (2,000m) at Sha Tin on Sunday after he was dealt the outside gate at yesterday's draw.
No horse has won the four-year-old classic from barrier 14, and jockey Maxime Guyon will need to be at his brilliant best if he is to lift the Tony Millard-trained runner to victory.
Compounding the pressure on the $2.80 favourite is the fact Ambitious Dragon is also aiming to become the first Hong Kong Classic Cup or Derby Trial winner to carry his lead-up success into the Derby - but French talent Guyon remains confident in his mount's ability.
'I think the draw will not be a big problem for Ambitious Dragon,' Guyon said from France yesterday through his translator and agent, Alexis Doussot. 'I will discuss the tactics with Mr Millard when I arrive in Hong Kong on Sunday morning, but my initial feeling is the horse will need to be ridden the same as he was in the Classic Cup.
'It is not ideal to draw wide at the 2,000 metre start, but it is not such a big worry, as he races best from the rear anyway.'
Fixed-odds bookmakers in Australia reacted more pessimistically and pushed Ambitious Dragon out from a pre-draw quote of $2.60 to $2.80 after owner Johnson Lam Pui-hung made the unlucky pick.
Millard-trained stablemate Treasure Lands also drew poorly in gate 10 for leading jockey Douglas Whyte, but there were no such worries for John Moore, who fared well with two of his three Derby contenders.
'Gate one is ideal for Xtension and he won't be going so far back from there,' Moore said. 'He can race closer than he has from the wider draws recently, and he has been running very good sectionals so I'm very pleased with that draw.
'It's unfortunate there isn't something that looks certain to run them along a little bit so they run a time of say two minutes and three seconds. On paper, it's more likely we'll get a time of two minutes and five seconds and it will mean a lot of hard-luck stories for horses getting back and needing to come through the field.
'Gate five for Military Move should see him racing midfield and I'm also happy with that, but of my three, Jacobee has been hurt most by the draw - he could end up further back from barrier nine than we really want him.'
Xtension firmed to $4.60 as second favourite after the draw, while Jacobee drifted to around $8 with overseas bookmakers. Last year's winning trainer Caspar Fownes also had a Meat Loaf moment at the draw, and was happy with the barriers selected for two out of his three chances in the race.
'Gates four [Mark Up] and six [Victor Delight] are perfect, while barrier 11 for Let Me Handle It is not ideal, but, in saying that, I definitely didn't want to draw the inside with him,' Fownes said.
'There doesn't look much speed in the race but if he can just get cover from that draw, then Let Me Handle It should at least have room to come down the outside in the straight. We know he has a great turn of foot off a slow tempo and, from that draw, he'll get a chance to show it on Sunday.'
Top-rated entrant Little Bridge drew barrier seven, and trainer Danny Shum Chap-shing is hoping the gelding's class will shine through as he steps up to 2,000m.
'I think we'll have to go back from the draw to get Little Bridge to run the distance. That is the big query with him, other than that the horse is in great form,' Shum said.
David Ferraris was thrilled with barrier three for his charge Semos, and is hoping for some more heaven-sent fortune in the days leading into the Derby.
'A bit of rain would also be a huge blessing for our horse, and we're hoping his poor recent luck will change in the big one.'