Ambitious Dragon can fire past his rivals again
Ambitious Dragon was back to something like his best to take the first leg of the Triple Crown last month and the five-year-old only has to turn up in the same mood to take the second leg at Sha Tin today, the HK$8 million Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup (2,000m).
While his failure in the Hong Kong Cup in December left unanswered questions, Ambitious Dragon (Douglas Whyte) came off a freshen-up to provide the correct responses in the Stewards' Cup.
It was the Ambitious Dragon we had become used to seeing - gathering his rivals up in a few strides without serious effort - and if he didn't draw away to put more than a length and a quarter on his nearest challenger, that could be put down to the contest being over and no extra being paid for margins.
Whyte was kind, just keeping Ambitious Dragon coasting down to the line, while Xtension (Jeff Lloyd) was at full throttle to maintain his proximity.
It was certainly enough to say the Horse of the Year was back and that is good enough to say that the same Horse of the Year will take the feature with even luck.
Xtension's connections will need something different to happen, some bad luck or an unexpected turn of events somewhere to reverse the decision, but Tony Cruz will doubtless expect California Memory (Matthew Chadwick) to make more of a race with the favourite.
The grey got too far out of the Stewards' Cup at 1,600m, but still produced the glittering sectionals we have come to expect - a dazzling dash from the 250m to the finish that saw him into third and boiled down to a final 400m around 11/2 lengths quicker than the winner.
If Chadwick can have him within striking range of Ambitious Dragon, California Memory may be able to mix it with him in the finish, but the scenario which has played out every time they've met has been of Ambitious Dragon getting a break.
He has quickened into his races to join in at the 200m, while, even when he has won, California Memory has arrived later in the piece.
So even if he has the ability to run a quicker sectional than Ambitious Dragon, that weapon has been blunted, and this race threatens to play out the same way.
Although he has gate three, California Memory also has Xtension and Mighty High underneath him - both likely pushing for a position more forward than the grey - so he may again find himself four back along the rail when stablemate Super Pistachio crosses over to the rail and the lead.
From there, he will be inside and behind Ambitious Dragon again when the cards are thrown out from the top of the straight and coming just too late to catch him.
Between them, Ambitious Dragon and California Memory have owned the Sha Tin 2,000m in the past year - winning all four Group Ones over the course, the Gold Cup, Derby, QE II Cup and Hong Kong Cup.
It is difficult to see them both being turned over, with perhaps Irian (Damien Oliver) to potential spoiler from his ideal draw. He outsprinted both California Memory and Ambitious Dragon on international day, when the Dragon was off his game, then he had a torrid four-wide run in the Stewards' Cup which demanded only that it be scrubbed from his form as though he was never there.
But, while solid and consistent, Irian has still to show that he can be more than competitive and actually prevail over this kind of opposition.
It was certainly enough to say the Horse of the Year was back and that is good enough to say that the same Horse of the Year will take the feature with even luck
The prize money, in HK dollars, Ambitious Dragon has collected for his connections