Trainer Tony Millard is happy to keep an air of quiet confidence in dual Horse Of The Year, Ambitious Dragon in the run-up to Sunday's HK$14 million Audemars Piguet QE II Cup and welcomes the international opposition that helps him do it.
"The horse is good, fresh. He had a good gallop last week and that's his main piece of work, we'll just open him up a little on the grass on Friday," he said yesterday. "But you always need luck - look at December. Ambitious Dragon was perfect, right where we wanted him, and then out of nowhere he had the problem with bruising his pastern the day before and we had to work hard to even get him to the race."
While much of the pre-race attention focuses on the 'new faces' in the Group One from Japan, Dubai and South Africa, Millard has Ambitious Dragon ticking over nicely as he looks for a second QE II Cup to go with the one he won in 2011. The trainer is doing his best to keep a low profile, before and during the race.
"I like having a few of these overseas horses and jockeys in the race, it takes the attention from us and changes things tactically," Millard said. "When it's all local horses and local jockeys, you know with a horse like this that they are looking out for you and they might look to box you in or ride to beat you. But when you have a few visitors there are others who might have a chance and have to be watched."
While tempo and draw issues often deal the winning hand in Group One races, Millard confesses they are not his major concerns with Ambitious Dragon. "He gets out the back anyway, whatever the pace, and he has gone well drawn wide when he doesn't have to do anything early," he said.
Although Ambitious Dragon is already the winner of three Group Ones over the Sha Tin 2,000m in four attempts at the distance, he has had a strict diet of racing over a mile or less in five appearances this season and wins in the Group One Hong Kong Mile and Queen Silver Jubilee Cup to show for it.
Going back up in distance has demanded a balancing act from Millard, especially given the possibility that he will back the gelding up in the Champions Mile on Sunday week.
"We still want him a bit fresh but, going to the 2,000m, he needs a bit more fitness than for the mile runs, too," said Millard, whose wife, Beverley, rides the star galloper in his work. "The main thing for me is that Bev came back after his gallop and said he's right. And when she says he's right, she's always right."