California Memory out to claim bragging rights
Hong Kong's greatest racetrack rivalry will be renewed tomorrow, with California Memory getting the right draw to replicate his International Day upset of Ambitious Dragon and capture back-to-back Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cups.
California Memory announced his arrival as a legitimate Group One horse in last year's Gold Cup, the Tony Cruz-trained grey scoring at 30-1, and since then either he or Ambitious Dragon has shared the spoils in the biggest races on the calendar.
After Ambitious Dragon won the 2011 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby on his way to Horse of the Year honours, he beat his rival into second in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup (2,000m).
The pair have clashed three times and Ambitious Dragon holds a 2-1 head-to-head advantage, including a last-start romp in the Stewards' Cup, with California Memory unsuited by the 1,600m trip and flashing home for third. Before that, however, in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup over tomorrow's distance of 2,000m, it was backmarker California Memory using barrier one to be closer to the speed than usual, and sprinting out of the box seat for the win, with a tired looking Ambitious Dragon back in fourth.
California Memory has drawn gate three tomorrow and it is easy to imagine jockey Matthew Chadwick adopting similar tactics.
'Ambitious Dragon is obviously one of the horses to beat, but I'll just be riding my own race,' Chadwick said. 'In the Hong Kong Cup, he jumped well enough from the good gate and we didn't have to use him much to get to the box seat. He just found his own way there. As long as we find a nice, uninterrupted run, then we'll be fine.'
Chadwick said California Memory was ready to fire, with an all-weather track trial keeping him up to the mark.
'The horse is working well and he is peaking at the right time. He is only a little fella, so it doesn't take much to get him fit,' he said. 'He is jumping around within himself, so he is feeling good.'
Cruz also has the up-and-coming Pure Champion (Tye Angland) entered, while John Moore saddles four runners. Between them, the two trainers have won seven of the last eight Gold Cups, but Tony Millard will be the one to beat with Ambitious Dragon (Douglas Whyte) likely to start odds-on favourite.
'It is going to be a tough test against California Memory and there are never any guarantees in races,' Millard said. 'He won well last time but that was 1,600m. The grey horse got too far back and things didn't go their way, so he will be very competitive this time.'
Ambitious Dragon has the edge in three meetings with tomorrow's main rival, California Memory