Dragon to launch desert assault
The three Gold Cup principals will form Hong Kong's most powerful assault on a major overseas race in the US$5 million Dubai Duty Free in four weeks, following the decision by Ambitious Dragon's connections to tackle the race.
Although Dubai authorities have yet to announce invitations for the prestigious World Cup meeting, the trio of Ambitious Dragon, Xtension and California Memory boasts impeccable credentials.
Owner Johnson Lam Pui-hung was known to have had concerns over the Dubai trip and its potential to flatten Ambitious Dragon for the rest of the domestic season.
However, trainer Tony Millard has outlined an open position on the gelding's post-Dubai campaign, with the possibility Ambitious Dragon will miss the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup on April 29 if he is feeling the effects of the travel. He may even wait to end his season in the Champions & Chater Cup (2,400m) a month later at Sha Tin, shooting for a HK$5 million bonus if he wins and becomes the first Triple Crown winner since River Verdon 18 years ago and only the second in history.
Ambitious Dragon beat Xtension and California Memory in the Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup last Sunday, and the connections of both placegetters are also keen to press on to Dubai.
Regular partner Douglas Whyte (pictured) said he still harboured some reservations about Ambitious Dragon stretching out to 2,400m, but was looking forward to tackling 1,800m at his first ride on the Meydan course in Dubai.
'He was entered for the World Cup [2,000m], too, but I do think the Duty Free is the way to go,' he said. 'The 1,800m there looks a nice easy course, just like the same distance at Sha Tin, only left-handed. I suppose you never know whether there will be a problem with going the other way until you try it.'
Whyte said he gained confidence from the regular formlines between the Duty Free and QE II Cup, as Dubai has been consistent as a lead-in venue for foreign visitors to Sha Tin.
Mike de Kock-trained QE II winners Irridescence and Archipenko had come through good form in Dubai, with Archipenko (2008) and Luca Cumani's Presvis (2009) coming off close-up defeats to win at Sha Tin.
'Mike de Kock's filly, River Jetez, finished second in the Duty Free last year before Ambitious Dragon beat her into sixth in the QE II, so that gives a good guide that he has the right quality,' Whyte said.
'What type of opposition we will meet this year I don't know, but I guess we'll have a better idea after the Super Saturday meeting there next week.'
Three runners in the Duty Free would spearhead what may finish up as the strongest Hong Kong team for an overseas meeting.
In the Group One US$1 million Al Quoz Sprint, past winner Joy And Fun will represent Hong Kong and trainer Manfred Man Ka-leung has yet to hear if Eagle Regiment has earned an invitation for the same race. Caspar Fownes has indicated he might look to one of the Dubai sprints with Lucky Nine, but has delayed taking any position until after Sunday's Group One Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin.
Also heading to Dubai will be jockey Jeff Lloyd, who rides Xtension for John Moore, along with stablemate Able One, if he receives an invitation, and the licensing committee is expected to grant Lloyd a further extension until May 6 in the coming days. Lloyd's licence had already been extended to March 18, but the serious injuries to Moore's stable rider, Darren Beadman, and apprentice Vincent Ho Chak-yiu weigh in favour of Lloyd's second extension.