The king was back on his throne as Ambitious Dragon made a one-act affair of the Group One Stewards' Cup for Douglas Whyte and Tony Millard yesterday, but the two were at odds over whether the horse could or even should become the second Triple Crown winner in Hong Kong history.
Whyte raced three wide with cover on Ambitious Dragon before the gelding quickly took himself into the race under a hold, then just kept up the tempo to beat Xtension by 11/4 lengths when a much bigger margin looked a possibility at the 200m.
'He won the race. That's what he was there to do and that's what he did,' Whyte said. 'He went by them so quickly and for a horse to go by them so quick in a Group One takes a phenomenal animal. It's something Tony and I have discussed - that he let's down so quickly that if you don't sit there and then sit longer again when you turn for home, Ambitious Dragon can get there too quickly. He probably lets down too fast and that may be why he might have looked a bit vulnerable in the last 50m, but he did have more in reserve - I hadn't given him a backhander or anything.'
Trainer Tony Millard said he had approached the Stewards' Cup more confidently than the Hong Kong Cup in December, when Ambitious Dragon had been a disappointing fourth following a surprise defeat due to a wide run in his lead-up race.
'He didn't have a good prep into the Cup. That lead-up race was just too hard on him,' said Millard, who was reticent about any overseas targets for Ambitious Dragon, despite an entry for Dubai. 'I'm not someone who puts the cart in front of the horse. He will definitely run in the Gold Cup before we consider Dubai.'
But, with the first 1,600m leg of the Triple Crown safely in his keeping and the 2,000m Gold Cup in the offing next month, Millard was more effusive when asked whether Ambitious Dragon might attempt to be the second Triple Crown winner effort and the first since River Verdon 18 years ago in the Champions & Chater Cup over 2,400m in May.
'This horse is a true champion - he doesn't have a distance,' Millard said. 'I don't think 2,400m would be a problem for him, the way he can turn it on when he sprints. Today I thought Douglas was maybe a length-and-a-half or two lengths closer than I would have liked, but they didn't go that fast and Douglas read the race well.'
Whyte, however, said he would not be in favour of a crack at the Champions & Chater, not merely for the distance of it but the time of year.
'I think he is too quick to stay 2,400m. I don't think he would run it and I really wouldn't like to see him tried at it,' Whyte said. 'At that time of year, you can get a very wet day, too, and there might not be a horse left if he gets bottomed out on a heavy track at that sort of distance.'
It was a fourth Group One for the reigning Horse of the Year, a first Stewards' Cup for Millard and a second for Whyte, who won on Armada in 2007, and the Durban Demon was at pains to thank those behind the victory.
'Once again, the owner Mr Lam [Johnson Lam Pui-hung] is such a gentleman and it was great to win it for him - he had all his family here today and I think he was little nervous before the race but very happy after,' Whyte said.
'And Tony's wife, Bev, has to get a really big acknowledgement. I rode the horse in a gallop on Sunday and in a trial recently but the dirty work, the day-to-day work riding him is all done by Bev and she just does a fantastic job.'
The prize money, in HK dollars, Ambitious Dragon's owner won