Champion jockey Douglas Whyte will not be aboard reigning Horse Of The Year Ambitious Dragon, even if connections decide on a tilt at the Triple Crown in the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup in two weeks.
Trainer Tony Millard was highly critical of Whyte's performance when the horse was unplaced in the Champions Mile last start, which led Whyte to fire back with his own criticisms of the trainer. With the bad feeling engendered, it seemed most unlikely the Durban Demon would be on board again despite his three Group One successes on Ambitious Dragon in the past year.
Whyte took the reins to win the QE II Cup last year and added the first two Triple Crown legs to his record this season, but relations with Millard have become strained.
'I have always said that the owner, Mr [Johnson] Lam [Pui-hung], is a thorough gentleman and I wish him all the very best with Ambitious Dragon. I've had a great association with him, and he's one of the best horses I've ever sat on but it's time to move on,' Whyte (pictured) said yesterday.
'After Mr Millard's comments last time, I made no commitment to the horse for the future, especially since I wasn't allowed to know what his plans were anyway. So I have a firm commitment to Dominant in the Champions & Chater, whatever they decide to do.'
Ambitious Dragon has already taken the Stewards' Cup over 1,600m and Gold Cup at 2,000m, earning his owners a HK$2 million bonus. The five-year-old would emulate River Verdon 18 years ago and become only the second horse to achieve the Triple Crown if successful over the Sha Tin 2,400m on May 27, and that would carry a HK$5 million bonus.
Entries close at 10am this morning and the rumour mill says that Ambitious Dragon will be among them with Umberto Rispoli in the saddle, though Millard refused to commit either to the start or to any particular new jockey.
'I'm not sure yet whether the horse will run. We are going to have a final meeting on it with the owner and decide then what we do,' Millard said yesterday. However, Rispoli's Italian agent, Enrico Querci, has confirmed that the jockey was booked for the race last Friday.
A win would secure a second successive Horse Of the Year title, but Ambitious Dragon has yet to be tried beyond 2,000m. Whyte has queried whether he would stay the 2,400m trip while Millard believes the gelding could win at any distance.