HKG1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby winner Ambitious Dragon ridden by South African Douglas Whyte and trained by fellow South African Tony Millard, already clear leader in the ratings search for Hong Kong’s most improved racehorse of the 2010/11 season, proved himself a marvel of durability as well as an international G1 performer of the highest class when producing the blazing finish that has become his trademark and blow away the opposition in the 2011 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
The Tony Millard-trained champion, ridden by Douglas Whyte for owner Johnson Lam Pui Hung, won by three quarters of a length from the fast finishing Tony Cruz-trained California Memory with one of the John Moore quartet of runners, Mighty High, staying on well for third. But as in all his recent victories, it was the devastating effect of his acceleration that stuck in the memory rather than the margin of victory.
“They call this one of the glamour events,” said Hong Kong Jockey Club Chief Executive Officer Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges, “and it’s certainly lived up to that billing today. This was a fantastic meeting and we’ve had fantastic support and coverage from the media. I know our sponsors are once again very pleased with their day.
“What’s really impressive though is the way in which our younger horses have come through. We have exceptionally good and talented four-year-olds. The acceleration of Ambitious Dragon was astonishing, and also that of California Memory who perhaps was even a little unlucky.
“Turnover on the race itself was up to HK$124 million from HK$102 million last year reinforcing our strategy of promoting international races. The day’s turnover was HK$1,069 million. And the total turnover on the two meetings, last Monday and today, was up despite the fact that we lost HK$36.5 million with the late scratching of the favorite in Race 2. But this isn’t just about turnover, it’s about the sports, competition and atmosphere, which I think it was good. It’s also about one of the most exciting horses we’ve had in Hong Kong for quite a long time.”
Ambitious Dragon provided champion jockey Whyte with his third APQEII Cup win after victories on London News and Oriental Express in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
“It all went so sweetly in the race,” said Whyte, who took over the mount from Maxime Guyon after the young Frenchman had been unable to come to Hong Kong because of obligations at home. “The only bit of aggro came in the stalls when he wanted to put his head down once, then did it again just before they opened. In fact he could almost have lost the race at the gate. But after he’d come out a bit more slowly than the others he did everything right, and when I asked him to go he was in front in a matter of about three strides.
“I suppose I have to thank Monsieur Andre Fabre for asking Maxime Guyon to stay in France,” joked the champion jockey, “but when you’re looking for good rides it’s every man for himself! It was great to ride another APQEII Cup winner for another South African trainer too because I started my career here by winning this race on London News. I think I had the whole of South Africa behind me then.”
The race was another triumph for trainer Tony Millard who admitted he had feared the campaign, which began back in October, might have been too long for his star performer who has now equalled the Hong Kong record of seven wins in a season established last year by Entrapment: “I was very worried in the weeks from the Derby to here because I felt we’d really squeezed him for the Derby. But he’s come back up again, and to get left at the start as well, it just shows how good he is. The horse comes first and he’ll take a break now. We’ll look at the local races first next season before we start thinking about races overseas, because I think this horse could be around at the top for another two or three years if we look after him properly.”
Asked about Ambitious Dragon’s spectacular improvement, Millard added: “We knew what he was doing wrong and we knew that if we got that right he would start to improve, but we couldn’t have guessed by how much.”
Owner Johnson Lam echoed the sentiment: “When I bought him I thought he’d be a good horse but I never imagined he’d be as good as this.”
While the winner deserves every bit of the praise lavished on him, the second, California Memory, ran a mighty race in defeat and will now go on, said trainer Tony Cruz, to contest the Singapore Airlines International Cup this month. California Memory surged through from the rear, weaving between horses, and was certainly not losing any ground to Ambitious Dragon in the last 50m as he produced a stunning 21.42 final quarter on ground that had taken a fair bit of rain in recent days. His jockey Matthew Chadwick felt that: “We were just about two lengths too far back when starting the run, that’s all it was.”
John Moore contenders Mighty High and Irian filled third and fourth positions with the stable’s old hero the great Viva Pataca, running for the sixth time in a race he has won twice, certainly not disgraced in fifth place - just a length and three quarters behind the brilliant winner.