Ambitious Dragon's trainer Tony Millard is confident his reigning Horse of the Year will regain his swagger in tomorrow's Champions Mile after a 'nightmare' overseas trip - but declared Dubai conqueror Cityscape near-unbeatable in the HK$12 million feature.
Millard joined the chorus of local trainers extolling the chances of Cityscape, who powered away to win the Dubai Duty Free at Meydan five weeks ago, a race where Ambitious Dragon loomed ominously, but faded to a dismal seventh on his international debut.
The trainer blamed a virus for Ambitious Dragon's uncharacteristic display, but even if the local hero returns to his best at Sha Tin, Millard said the class field would be running for 'place money'.
'I can't see anybody beating [Cityscape],' he said. 'He was just so impressive in Dubai, it was unbelievable, he gave everybody a galloping lesson. That was over 1,800m, what's he going to do over a mile? He will destroy us because he'll go up there on the speed and then go away.
'Unless he gets some sort of pressure up front, I don't think we've got a chance. We'll be running for place money.'
Millard said a chain of events which started with delayed flights and ended with an unsettling pre-race fireworks display all contributed to Ambitious Dragon not being himself on World Cup night.
'We had huge problems over there,' Millard said. 'We were 100 per cent on the back foot.'
A one-hour flight delay when departing for Dubai resulted in 24 more hours in quarantine for the five-year-old and the lack of exercise triggered a muscle enzyme issue.
Treatment for that brought about an undetected virus, before the normally placid Ambitious Dragon charged into the parade ring fired-up and proceeded to flop as favourite.
'Two days [without work] we could have coped with, that is what we expected ... but he has serious problems if you don't work him, so it could not have been any worse,' Millard said. 'He just wasn't the same horse. [Before the race] he was on his toes and jumping around ... then Douglas went to go in the race and there was nothing there.
'The next day he had a screaming temperature and we knew that he'd had a subclinical virus. We had to give him antibiotics to bring his temperature down and get him on the plane, and that knocked him back, it was a nightmare.'
The debacle brought about a rethink of Ambitious Dragon's schedule, connections forgoing a chance to defend the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup in favour of a week's extra rest and dropping back to a mile.
'The extra week has been huge, I'm certainly a lot happier with him,' Millard said. 'I feel that maybe Dubai has taken a little bit away from him, but I've been very pleased with his work. He has just really shone, he has got his bounce back.'
Victory tomorrow would likely clinch another Horse of the Year award, but win or lose, Millard said it would be his horse's final race for the season: 'What more does he need to do? He has had a good season,' he said.
'He has won two group ones. You must remember too, that he has been going since October. I haven't seen too many of them going since October and he is still going and we're still asking him to do a big job.'