Dragon has got the fire, whether it's fast or slow

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 January, 2012, 12:00am


The pace is some query in the HK$8 million Stewards' Cup (1,600m) at Sha Tin and Ambitious Dragon can get himself into difficulty by being slowly away, but none of that will stop the reigning Horse of the Year from winning a fourth Group One and retaking his reputation as one of Hong Kong's greats if he turns up today.

The Tony Millard-trained five-year-old let his supporters down badly as a short-priced in the Hong Kong Cup last start, make no mistake about that.

Some will say the terribly slow tempo was not in Ambitious Dragon's favour, but today's rival Irian came from behind him to beat him home and even Irian's biggest fans would concede he is not in the same category as Millard's gelding.

Jockey Douglas Whyte said he came to win the race with ease, then Ambitious Dragon emptied out at a rate that said he simply wasn't himself on the big day, for whatever reason.

Since then, he has been freshened up, trialled nicely at Sha Tin and given all the indications that we can expect the best of Ambitious Dragon.

The best of him includes last year's Derby and QE II Cup and, more recently, the National Day Cup in October, when a fresh Ambitious Dragon under 133 pounds thrashed a quality field that included many of the runners that he meets now at level terms.

And if that is the Ambitious Dragon that turns up, then start engraving the trophy because only bad luck will beat that particular horse. That Ambitious Dragon has a world-class turn of foot that takes him from anywhere to first in a few strides and the physique to get himself out of whatever trouble might be coming his way during a race.

You can look at sectional times in different ways, and many a horse can run great split numbers off a slow speed but not many do it off a good speed. Ambitious Dragon has that hallmark of the great horse that he can also cruise along at a solid tempo, then accelerate in the same blinding splits at the finish.

He does himself no favours with fairly regular slow starts, which will probably mean Ambitious Dragon settles in the back half of the field even from his decent draw.

Able One, Sight Winner and Flying Blue, in a new yard, are the only regular forward runners in the race and trainer John Moore has already hinted Able One is more likely to drop into the close chasing role that he prefers these days than to look for the lead. That leaves only two leaders and what tactics Flying Blue will adopt under new trainer Derek Cruz remain to be seen, and really only a horse like Mighty High who might come from something like left field as the pacemaker.

So the tempo does not look a strong one, but that has not been a concern previously for Ambitious Dragon. Fast or slow, he just needs to be on song and in the clear and he will take the race.

His danger, the only other runner in the same class on exposed form, is the Tony Cruz-trained California Memory (Matthew Chadwick). He doesn't have quite as impressive a career record as the favourite, as much due to his get-back style and a smaller stature which doesn't help him in tight spots. Like Ambitious Dragon, though, California Memory has lightning turn of foot if things do fall his way and it would be no surprise to see him win.


The prize money, in HK dollars, the Tony Millard-trained Ambitious Dragon has earned from 15 stars