Dragon's fire forces Moore to rethink plans for Xtension
It was a rare Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby as Ambitious Dragon stamped himself the next big thing in racing yesterday - no hard-luck stories and even John Moore looking to sidestep the winner in future.
'We might change course with Xtension and run in the Champions Mile instead of the QE II Cup,' he said after Xtension had run his heart out under Jeff Lloyd for second. 'I don't really want to keep running into that horse and Able One might not be at his best for the Champions Mile at that stage.'
With Mark Up and Handsome Zulu rolling the Derby field along at a good clip, none of the fears of a muddling pace surfaced and Ambitious Dragon stopped the clock at two minutes 1.5 seconds in the second-quickest Derby since it went to 2,000m 11 years ago.
And the true test made it all about the best horse and Ambitious Dragon (Maxime Guyon) left no doubt about which horse that was, as he again produced that twinkling acceleration to go from back in the field to contention in only 100m and put Xtension away cleverly on the line.
The pair pulled almost four lengths in front of third placed Let Me Handle It, who got home strongly from a similar position to Ambitious Dragon, but simply couldn't quicken with him.
The win was a triumph, a thrill and even a relief for Guyon, the boom young French rider who linked with Ambitious Dragon during his stint here and declared him high-class performer even when he was still rated in Class Three.
'I am very happy to be proved right today - I only said what I felt to be true but it is nice to have it confirmed,' he said. 'I'm 200 per cent sure this horse will prove himself as an international Group One horse. Horses from Hong Kong have showed they can win those types of races, so if he is the best horse here, then he can do that too. All dreams are open. He is so relaxed that I think 2,400m would not trouble him.'
Most expected trainer Tony Millard would have been gutted on Thursday when Ambitious Dragon drew the outside barrier in the field - a position from which the Derby had never been won before - but the trainer said post-race was never his concern. 'I didn't worry about the draw because I knew he would be getting back anyway,' Millard said. 'I was more worried about the horse than the draw. After the draw, I went back to the stables to look at him and he looked so well, I had no doubts. You get one or two of these in your lifetime and I'm very lucky to get him.'
Millard won the Derby in his first year in Hong Kong, with Keen Winner in 2000, and Ambitious Dragon's two Group Ones now have ended that long drought.
'It's been a tough time,' the South African said. 'We've had a long time in the wilderness, and I just hope people will start believing in us now as we've always believed in ourselves.'
While Moore was comfortable enough with Xtension having simply met a better horse, he wasn't as happy with how the race turned out in the straight for his second-string Jacobee (Zac Purton) and vented his frustration with Alex Lai Hoi-wing (Outdoor Pegasus).
'In the Classic Cup, he did the same thing to Xtension and cost him a place and today he's come out and pushed Jacobee into trouble at the 200m and I think definitely cost him third place,' Moore said. 'Xtension's run very well, perhaps Jacobee and Military Move will be better placed back in handicap racing.'
Stewards also took exception to Lai's ride later, with a two-day suspension and HK$70,000 fine over the incident. Millard said Ambitious Dragon will now take on 'the QE II Cup, then a rest', and Guyon's manager Alexis Doussot said he would be ringing the young rider's French boss, Andre Fabre, today.
'It will be my first phone call when I return to France,' he said. 'That day is also a Group racing day in France, but not the highest level, so I am 99 per cent sure Maxime will be back to ride this horse in the QE II.'
Ambitious Dragon only took this many seconds in the final split to score his fourth consecutive win: 22.65