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PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 November, 2012, 5:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2012, 2:19pm

A rivalry to match anything in boxing

There's nothing like a great racetrack rivalry to ignite the passion of fans and "The Sha Tin stoush" in the Jockey Club Mile between Glorious Days and Ambitious Dragon had all the hallmarks of a knock-down, drag 'em out title bout.

BIO

Since joining the SCMP in 2011, Michael has proven himself as a news-breaking journalist and a talented tipster with a keen eye for spotting new talent at the trials. He has earned the respect of trainers, jockeys and officials – and when something happens, we expect him to be one of the first to know about it. Michael’s insightful, irreverent racing blog “Happy Lucky Dragon Win” appears each Monday and Thursday on our website.
 

There's nothing like a great racetrack rivalry to ignite the passion of fans and "The Sha Tin stoush" in yesterday's Jockey Club Mile between Glorious Days and Ambitious Dragon - and the thrilling duel between their arch-rival jockeys - had all the hallmarks of a knock-down, drag 'em out title bout.

This is turning into the equine equivalent of the classic Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier trilogy, or the three-round "war" between Marvin Hagler and Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns in 1985.

Glorious Days v Ambitious Dragon III, on the big stage of International Day, December 9, will be one for the ages. All we need is ringside announcer Michael Buffer in the Sha Tin parade ring to set the tone pre-race with his "Let's get ready to rumble" catch cry.

Two-time defending horse of the year - the undisputed champ - Ambitious "Hooves of Dynamite" Dragon, had delivered a decisive stoppage in the first bout, the Sha Tin trophy, as his jockey Zac Purton produced a flawless tactical display.

Setting the scene for yesterday's rematch was a sensational late betting move - Glorious "The Silent Assassin" Days slammed in betting in the final minute. There's nothing like the "Lamp of God" being lit - the brown light indicating a horse's odds being halved - to get the natives restless. You don't need to speak Cantonese to realise the poor sods who have already placed their hard-earned are completely freaking out as odds tumble: the tote board lights up like a Christmas tree and all sorts of moans and groans emanate from the packed public stand.

This was the two best horses in town, with the top two jockeys aboard, and the tactical battle was one to savour. Do jockeys ride harder anywhere else? It would be frightening if they did.

While the media's criticism of Douglas Whyte's early season efforts may have been a touch alarmist, it's fair to say he wasn't at his best and had at times been a touch indecisive, at least by his usual impeccable standards.

But Whyte's aggression and confidence on Glorious Days was typical of a day when everything went right and he showed his mojo was well and truly back with a four-timer, ominously moving to within one of Purton at the top of the Jockeys' Championship.

This race replay is one to watch again, and again. Watch Purton make the lightning move to get outside Whyte down the back and gain an upper hand. Whyte counters by making Purton work overtime to hold his ground on every single inch of the turn - if he couldn't make Ambitious Dragon sit three-deep, he was making him sit 2-1/2 - or 2-1/4 horses off the fence - whatever slight advantage he could find. The horses are centimetres apart, fighting for the same narrow strip of turf, Whyte showing a command over the blinkered Glorious Days that wasn't possible previously. This is a different animal with the head gear on, capable of being placed anywhere in the run.

In the straight, Purton goes for the knockout, breaking into clear ground, but when he throws his trademark right hook - there's no power behind it - and Whyte, initially blocked for a run, counts to three and gets the split, bursting away.

And was that even a little celebratory taunt, some Ali-like, post-race postural pontification from Whyte after the line? It's hard to know who he was gesturing toward, but it sure seemed like he was pointing at Purton.

Yesterday's undercard also saw a few performers worthy of top billing on any other day: California Memory - a featherweight fighting way out of his weight division - and Lucky Nine - a brutal but brilliant brawler who is chronically underrated.

Like any good fight night, a few reputations were wrecked and egos bruised.

Little Bridge gave the look of an ageing and out-of-shape heavyweight, giving the impression that, even if he is still capable of that one big performance, he might now struggle past the opening couple of rounds when taken deep into a fight.

In boxing, fight fans wish away years waiting for two superstars to negotiate terms for a match-up that often turns out to be a let down.

So while a Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio match-up has been in the pipeline for what seems like a lifeline, the great thing about Hong Kong racing is that Glorious Days and Ambitious Dragon have to clash.

Hong Kong's racing's landscape is as restricted as the country is geographically - there's no place to hide. While they are around, they can't avoid one another.

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