Ambitious Champion will find himself in the deep end next start, forced to take on Werther at level weights in a Group One, but while winning that may be beyond him, whatever happens next is a bonus anyway after jockey Chad Schofield helped pinch the Group Three Queen Mother Memorial Cup on the hardy galloper yesterday.
When Ambitious Champion narrowly won a Class Two more than two months ago, trainer Richard Gibson laughed out loud when a journalist suggested yesterday’s 2,400m handicap would be an ideal target for his six-year-old, which at that point had won just two from 22 since arriving from New Zealand.
“When that journalist asked me about this race, I just said he wasn’t good enough,” a delighted Gibson said after Schofield dictated from up front in a race run at such steady fractions it left backmarkers with little chance.
From gate six Schofield slid into a position outside the lead, a somewhat risky move given the horse had never been placed so close before, but the move proved pivotal after consecutive 26-second plus sectionals down the back straight gave Ambitious Champion the breather he needed.
“There looked a lack of speed on paper, but at the last few times I had ridden him he had raced quite keen, so Richard just said to ride him on feel, and keep him happy and relaxed,” Schofield said. “I let him stride up outside the leader and we got an easy time up front and when I asked him for effort he really picked up, his last 400m seemed very strong.”
Tony Cruz-trained Anticipation was an encouraging second and stablemate Giovanni Canaletto was left with too much to do from the tail of the field, but John Moore-trained favourite Victory Magic was a complete flop, jockey Zac Purton reporting to stewards that the four-year-old did not handle the wet conditions.
While it would seem unlikely Ambitious Champion could go one better than owner Johnson Lam Pui-hung’s former actual champion, Ambitious Dragon, and win the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup at his next start on May 22, Schofield said he deserved a spot in the race.
“He is still improving, obviously it will be a big jump in class, but he is with the right stable, and he is a progressive horse, so let’s see,” Schofield said.
Schofield returned from a suspension to ride at the feature meeting – and he starts another with Wednesday’s Happy Valley fixture – but the Australian jockey made the most of his day in between when he got a second win on Friends Of Nanjing for Benno Yung Tin-pang.
Friends Of Nanjing has now won three in a row and the three-year-old handled a step up to 1,400m well, getting a long way back in the wet conditions, before gunning down race favourite People’s Knight.
“I really like this horse, he is just so raw,” Schofield said of the Australian-bred son of Jet Spur. “He still feels like a gangly two-year-old so there is still a lot left in him, mentally he is just not there but he is still winning.”