Trainer Tony Cruz is probably the only man hoping it really isn't the Year of the Dragon as his natty grey California Memory renews his rivalry with Ambitious Dragon in Sunday's Group One, HK$8 million Stewards' Cup at Sha Tin.
Ambitious Dragon defeated California Memory in the Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup last season but the tables were turned in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup last month when California Memory outran the reigning Horse of the Year to win, with his rival in fourth place.
Both of those races were at 2,000 metres but the two horses have to drop back to 1,600m on Sunday before they again step up in distance in the Gold Cup next month.
'It was too long to go without a run between the international and the Gold Cup, so I had no option but to run California Memory in this race on Sunday,' said Cruz yesterday. 'This is a lead-up run to the Gold Cup, but in saying that I think he will run a big race in this as well. I'm very happy with the inside draw, and he is certainly fit enough to run a good 1,600m and that will tighten him up again to go back to 2,000m next time.'
Cruz has already pencilled in plans for California Memory to head to the Dubai Duty Free (1,800m) after the Gold Cup.
'This is the prime time of his career. He's better, stronger and more professional than he has been before,' he said.
Cruz won the Stewards' Cup twice as a jockey but he has taken it three times as a trainer, with Bullish Luck (2005), Russian Pearl (2006) and Beauty Flash last year.
He took Beauty Flash to Dubai for the Duty Free, but the multiple Group One winner failed to run out the 1,800m and he is facing even bigger hurdles now.
He was scratched from the Stewards' Cup before declarations this week due to a reported blood abnormality and his career is on hold.
'Beauty Flash has been gradually losing form and getting worse and worse,' Cruz said. 'We've had to medicate his knees and fetlocks and now he has this blood infection, which is very serious, and we've had to treat him with antibiotics. It's a shame because, for a specialist high-class miler like Beauty Flash, there are only one or two of these races per season and he has to miss this one. Anyway, he'll have some rest and treatment and I expect he will be okay again. Then we'll see what races are available.'
The Stewards' Cup is the first leg of the Triple Crown and California Memory and Ambitious Dragon would both have strong claims to being able to win the first two legs - the Gold Cup is the second - but it remains to be seen if either would attempt the 2,400m final leg, the Champions & Chater Cup in May.
Tony Cruz has a handful of Stewards' Cup victories already - two as a jockey and three as a trainer