The best jockeys, the best horses and the stakes are high when Ambitious Dragon, Glorious Days and Lucky Nine clash in the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin on Sunday. Many fans will be thinking about the BMW Hong Kong Derby as the race of the weekend, even if it is technically a HK$16 million Class Two, but the HK$6 million Queen's Silver Jubilee overshadows it as a racing contest.
The race has only held Group One status for the last seven runnings and has already been the stage for some memorable wins, and losses, like Sacred Kingdom's controversial defeat by Good Ba Ba in 2008.
Between them, the three stars in this year's renewal have had 14 starts at 1,400m for nine wins, three seconds and a third and leading riders Douglas Whyte (Glorious Days), Zac Purton (Ambitious Dragon) and Brett Prebble (Lucky Nine) are all confident of having the winning edge.
"This is Lucky Nine's best distance and I reckon I'll be in front of the other two - that's my edge," said Prebble. "The best he's ever gone was over 1,400m when he broke into Group racing a couple of seasons ago and won by a huge margin. But in saying that, he didn't feel too shabby in the 1,200m last time and he's going as well as ever.
"We beat Glorious Days in this last year in a close finish and my bloke is very tough and courageous and probably bluffed the other horse out of it. Glorious Days seems braver now since he got blinkers and maybe he is better than he was then, but Lucky Nine's feet weren't perfect at that stage and they're good now, so he's better, too."
Whyte rode John Size-trained Glorious Days in a quiet trial just to blow the cobwebs out last week and couldn't fault him. He knows this could become a tactical race between the three outstanding jockeys.
"A lot will boil down to draws and a little luck in running. The attribute that can win it for Glorious Days is how much better he is tactically since John put blinkers on him," Whyte said.
"Before you had to push and urge him to get a position but he's so uncomplicated these days. You can put him anywhere in a race. The other two horses are very good - Ambitious Dragon is a champion if he comes in the right frame of mind - but the blinkers on Glorious Days have brought him on mentally and he's taken that next step he had to take to mix it with the big boys. He's one of them now."
Lucky Nine and Glorious Days come in as last-start Group One winners, while dual Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon is looking to bounce back after finishing fourth to Glorious Days in the Stewards' Cup in January.
"Absolutely explosive fresh. That's what Ambitious Dragon brings to the game on Sunday," Purton said. "He's only had two runs for Tony Millard over 1,400m, both fresh, and won them both brilliantly.
"When he's like that, he'd be hard to beat in anything. It could become tactical with only nine runners but, hopefully they will go a decent gallop and everyone gets their chance."