It had the ingredients of a classic two-horse war when Ambitious Dragon and Dominant clashed in yesterday's Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup at Sha Tin, with a Group One, Horse Of The Year honours and the small matter of HK$3 million in Triple Crown bonus on the line.
But, in the grand racecourse tradition of such things, David Ferraris-trained Liberator - named for a second world war aircraft that helped secure victory in Europe - was there to drop a bomb on all the expectations and take the race for himself.
South African jockey, Weichong Marwing put on a masterclass in timing, leaving his more vaunted rivals flat-footed and gasping when he set Liberator free at the 700m mark and set up a break that proved unassailable in the final major for the season.
'I told David before the race how I would like to ride Liberator - just to make one move on him, but make it a long move because he stays and if you hold him up, they'd outsprint him - and how I imagined the race might work out was exactly what happened,' said a delighted Marwing.
Ambitious Dragon needed the Champions & Chater to collect the first Triple Crown in 18 years and only the second in history, and there was a HK$5 million bonus to collect if he did so, but trainer Tony Millard took his defeat on the chin and connections have to be content with the HK$2 million bonus for winning two legs. 'We got beaten fair and square. He finished great, but his run came to an end and he'd had enough at the finish,' Millard said. 'We'll put him away and look at next year.'
Liberator became the first Hong Kong International Sale graduate to win at the Group One level since The Duke's Hong Kong Mile win in 2006, and the first Group One win for part-owner Siu Pak-kwan, who has poured millions into his racehorses in recent years and was pleased as punch with the outcome, with the other runner he owns outright, Irian, finishing fourth of the six starters.
The day ended badly for Italian jockey Umberto Rispoli, flown in especially to replace Douglas Whyte on Ambitious Dragon, finishing with a fracture to a wristbone as the fallout after Whyte's tumble half an hour later when Can Do snapped a leg and crashed into Rispoli's mount.