Dragon gets job done despite early scare
Both rider and horse got it slightly wrong at different stages of yesterday's Audemars Piguet QE II Cup, but it didn't stop Ambitious Dragon storming to victory and slamming down his awesome credentials as the best horse in town.
A roar went up from the crowd when the Tony Millard-trained Ambitious Dragon and Douglas Whyte came out of the 12 barrier two lengths behind the field and the jockey later admitted it wasn't totally the game plan.
'I did want to come out a little slow, then go across behind them, but Ambitious Dragon overdid the plan,' he said.
'Before the race, though, Tony oozed confidence in what we were about to do and left the race to me 100 per cent. My plan changed, I had to make things happen but when you're on the best horse, you can do that. I started to peel off at the home turn and he was that big and eager to get going, he made his own run and was in front in three strides. I probably went too soon and had him in front for too long but I guess we were both pretty eager to go and win it.'
It was Whyte's third QE II Cup, 13 years after his second, with the ride becoming available after regular jockey Maxime Guyon was held to commitments in France, where his reward was a minor race at Longchamps.
'I want to thank Andre Fabre for insisting Maxime ride there and now that I've won on the horse I'll do everything possible to stay on him,' Whyte said. 'He's a horse that any rider would want to get on and his turn of foot is breathtaking. Tony has done a fantastic job keeping this horse in form for so long this season.'
Millard (pictured) said Ambitious Dragon compared with any horse he had trained in his career, but would be off for a break after a long season.
'I had a filly in South Africa who won nine Group Ones - a true champion - but this horse is on a par,' Millard said. 'It was a worry, the five weeks break between the Derby and this - we really squeezed him for the Derby and I think he was a little bit better for that - but he bounced back. Anything is possible for the future and I've had offers to go here or there but the horse comes first. If we look after him properly and respect him, he could be winning like this for two or three years.'
Millard reflected on the change that arrived with the transfer of Ambitious Dragon to his yard at the end of last season and the end of a decade-long drought in the big time.
'You have your up good times and bad times and the worst I had was losing Good Ba Ba for no good reason but that is Hong Kong - this time last year I didn't think I'd be standing here today,' he said.
While Ambitious Dragon will turn his back on overseas assignments for now, the Tony Cruz-trained runner-up California Memory (Matthew Chadwick) had a hard-luck tale and may go on to the Singapore International Airlines Cup this month.
'If we'd had the same run as the winner, I might have won,' said Chadwick. 'But the winner is a big strong horse, he goes where he wants and my horse is half his size and doesn't have that luxury.'
Cruz said that a foot abscess in mid-April had not helped with his preparation of California Memory, either.
'So he could be in better shape when we go to Singapore next time,' he said.
Number of Group One victories for Ambitious Dragon after his QE II Cup success: 3