History tells us to hedge our bets
It was hard to ask for more from Ambitious Dragon and Entrapment last Saturday as they kicked off campaigns headed towards the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races (HKIR) in December, but history has its own views on how important their performances might prove.
As Ambitious Dragon's eye-popping National Day Cup win took the prize-money tally for Douglas Whyte's Hong Kong career past the HK$1 billion mark, the five-year-old had a look of invincibility that defies the history of the race.
While the Cup has been a kick-off point for many of the top horses in years gone by, it has not been much of a guide to events on international day. Most of the winners never made it to the majors on that day; quite a few were not even racing two months later and those runners who did have a role at HKIR were either comfortably held on October 1 or took a different path to their main goals.
What that tells us is there is a lot of water to flow under the bridge in the next two months, and that whatever appeared an ironclad future last Saturday afternoon is open to change.
For all of that, Ambitious Dragon was as impressive a winner of the National Day Cup as there has been in its 12-year history.
If trainer Tony Millard's call that the gelding can improve on that is to be believed, then Ambitious Dragon will carve a record as the best horse yet produced here, but there are reasons to wonder whether such a view is indeed ambitious. For one thing, the horse was most likely the fittest runner in the race, having had little let-up in training since the QE II Cup in April.
Nevertheless, just being sound and able to hold on to that level of performance - and horses which perform as well as that rarely do it every time - he would be the horse to beat in anything in the foreseeable distance.
Entrapment's return in the Sha Tin Sprint Trophy, though, has a more significant historical angle towards HKIR.
That race has been a sound guide to a good performance in the Hong Kong Sprint, even though only Silent Witness and Sacred Kingdom (2007) were able to take out both races.
What was to like about Entrapment's win was the apparent scope for improvement, with the five-year-old over-racing, despite what read on the clock as a good tempo in the early and middle stages.
With that understandable freshness knocked off him, Entrapment can make the improvement he will need on a straight comparison of weights with Sacred Kingdom. Just where the latter can go is open to question - his best performance all last season was in the same race first-up and he couldn't repeat that for the rest of the term, despite winning a Centenary Sprint Cup at more suitable level terms.
As an older horse, perhaps his best will be reserved for when he is fresh, and there is talk Sacred Kingdom may go straight into the Hong Kong Sprint now to keep him that way.
The wow factor on National Day was stunning but the really serious guides to the HKIR events are yet to come in the Premier Bowl and Sha Tin Trophy on October 30, then the Jockey Club Cup, Sprint and Mile on November 20.