The announcement that two top-liners from the southern hemisphere will be lining up in next month's HK$12 million Champions Mile at Sha Tin was somewhat overshadowed yesterday by trainer Tony Millard's intention to back up dual Horse Of The Year Ambitious Dragon in the race.
Three overseas entries have been selected: five-time Group One winner Shoot Out from the barn of Sydney's champion trainer Chris Waller, veteran New Zealander King Mufhasa, with 10 Group Ones to his credit in Australia and New Zealand, and UK-trained Group Two winner and Prix de la Foret runner-up last October, Penitent.
The caveat over Shoot Out's participation is how he comes out of Saturday's Group One Doncaster Mile in Sydney, but trainer Bruce Wallace and the connections of King Mufhasa flagged their keenness to come for the Champions Mile even before his George Ryder Stakes effort.
King Mufhasa and Shoot Out finished in the placings, chasing home champion three-year-old Pierro, two weekends ago in the Group One Ryder at Rosehill.
The rarity of two high-profile horses from Australasia at Sha Tin might normally headline yesterday's announcement, but Millard ensured that was not the case.
Ambitious Dragon is already slated to run in the Audemars Piguet QE II Cup on April 28, an engagement presumed to rule out his participation in the Champions Mile seven days later, but the six-year-old was atop the 14 Champions Mile entries announced by the Jockey Club and Millard said it was a real possibility that he would run in both. "There's nothing for him afterwards, so he'll have five months to get over it," Millard said last night, ruling out another tilt at the Champions & Chater Cup.
"We only ran in the 2,400m last year because the chance to win the Triple Crown was alive. This year it wasn't after we were beaten in the Stewards' Cup, so we haven't really thought about going there again."
But Millard did admit that a Champions Mile run, coming back 400m in distance from the QE II Cup, would be conditional on Ambitious Dragon, who has never run twice so close in his career. The only time he has run twice in 14 days, he was a winner at Happy Valley in October 2010, but that was in Class Four.
"We are going for the QE II, we'll get that over with and, if he comes out of the race well, there's no reason why he shouldn't run," Millard said. "It isn't ideal - I would have preferred to have the mile first and the 2,000m second, but that's the way the programme is and he will have to come back in distance."
The remainder of the field will be local horses, including the only supplementary entry in the field, Packing Ok, recently transferred to the Danny Shum Chap-shing yard.
The local hopefuls, Ambitious Dragon aside, will be led by the John Size-trained Stewards' Cup winner Glorious Days, while John Moore's trio of runners is headed by Xtension, looking for a third successive Champions Mile win, along with Dan Excel and Admiration.
Packing Whiz, a brilliant first-time winner for Caspar Fownes recently, will be joined by Helene Spirit also representing the yard.
And Richard Gibson has thrown Classic Mile winner and Derby third placegetter Gold-Fun into the pool, too.