What's Dragon's next big move?
There was nothing indecisive about Ambitious Dragon's Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup victory yesterday until it reached the post-race press conference stage, where trainer Tony Millard appeared paralysed by the range of choices available to the reigning Horse of the Year and a trip to Dubai next month still remains a question mark.
Douglas Whyte and Ambitious Dragon disposed of Xtension (Jeff Lloyd) and California Memory (Matthew Chadwick) with a ruthless, machine-like authority, but plans for the champion's overseas targets are still to be discussed, with World Cup night at Meydan on the table, the Yasuda Kinen in Tokyo in early June and even the Champions & Chater Cup at 2,400m in late May, which could net the gelding a HK$5 million bonus as the first winner of Hong Kong's Triple Crown for almost two decades.
Ambitious Dragon was comfortable winning the first leg - the Stewards' Cup in January - but was even more prepossessing in his second leg victory yesterday. 'I think he was better today. He's really back to where he should be,' said Whyte. 'In the Stewards' Cup, we turned for home and he dropped them but then he levelled out. Today, once again I was worried about hitting the front too soon and I was still hanging on to Ambitious Dragon when he did get to them, but when I asked him to go again, he did.'
Despite a 11/4-length margin, there was never a point at which Ambitious Dragon looked under threat, and Whyte coasted through the final 50m with plenty of horse left for whatever is to come between now and the QE II Cup in two months, but that is something still to be decided.
Ambitious Dragon has entries for both the Dubai Duty Free (1,800m) and Dubai World Cup (2,000m), but owner Johnson Lam Pui-hung is understood to be against the trip to the desert, for fear of flattening the horse and there is a precedent for that line of thought. Ironically, it was Vengeance Of Rain's Dubai Sheema Classic win that cost him Horse of the Year honours five years ago when he returned jaded and was roundly spanked by Viva Pataca in the QE II Cup and Champions & Chater Cup.
Twelve months later, it was Viva Pataca who returned tired from his second in Dubai and was beaten in the same two home-ground features as a hot favourite. Millard refused to be drawn on targets in the aftermath of Ambitious Dragon's fifth Group One win.
'First we have to see how the horse pulls up, then Mr Lam and I have to sit down and see where we go,' Millard said, and he appeared less bullish about the 2,400m of the final Triple Crown leg than previously. 'There's nothing like giving a horse like this a break and the 2,400m does come up a bit late in the season.'
While Millard was undecided, John Moore was clear that Xtension would go to the Duty Free and acquit himself well.
'On his game, Ambitious Dragon is just too hard to beat,' Moore said. 'But Xtension got a bit held up in the straight and was still able to get past California Memory. I'm very happy to take him to Dubai and I think he will be very competitive. The 2,000m is about as far as he goes, so 1,800m is perfect and he is in great form.'
Dubai had been on the agenda for Hong Kong Cup winner, California Memory, and may still be, but Chadwick felt the grey didn't run to his usual performance after claiming second in the final 100m only to lose it again: 'I'll be interested to see how he pulls up tomorrow. I went past Xtension and it is unlike my horse for another horse to get past him at the end of a race.'
This is the amount Ambitious Dragon can net if he can win the final leg of the Triple Crown - Champions & Chater Cup