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Ambitious Dragon breathes fire in HK Mile

Ambitious Dragon was lame on Saturday, but superb on Sunday (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Two-time Hong Kong Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon was the subject of a last-minute injury scare on Saturday, but the Tony Millard charge passed his vet check with flying colors Sunday morning, and several hours later, conquered the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile with condescending nonchalance. Spoiling for revenge on Glorious Days, who had upset him in the local course-and-distance prep, Ambitious Dragon coasted past the whippersnapper to reconfirm his status as Hong Kong's best.

Glorious Days went off as the favorite in the Mile, not only because of his victory in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile, but also in light of the cloud over Ambitious Dragon. One day before their eagerly-awaited rematch, Ambitious Dragon was "moderately lame" in his right hind leg. Would the Dragon even be fit to compete on Sunday, let alone turn the tables in Hong Kong's biggest race meeting of the year?

"I definitely know what Kiefer Sutherland felt like in '24', because the last 24 hours were trying and I really must thank my staff," Millard said. "Up to 11 p.m. last night they were still walking the horse, and we brought him out this morning, and he seemed to improve every hour. It is a great reflection on the horse that he is."

Breaking from a potentially problematic post 11 of 12, Ambitious Dragon was anchored near the rear of the field by Zac Purton. Up front, France's Don Bosco blitzed through fast fractions, chased by Packing OK, Japan's Grand Prix Boss and Ireland's Gordon Lord Byron. Glorious Days was within striking range in fifth, but the French filly Siyouma was farther back in the pack and enduring a tough trip without cover.

Glorious Days cruised up to challenge in the stretch and soon struck the front. Meanwhile, Ambitious Dragon had peeled out widest of all, and the game was foot. As soon as the Pins gelding gained his momentum, Glorious Days looked increasingly vulnerable, and so it proved. Ambitious Dragon collared the pretender to prevail by a cozy three-quarters of a length.

Ambitious Dragon had the satisfaction of turning the tables on Glorious Days (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
By covering the metric mile on Sha Tin's good turf in 1:34, Ambitious Dragon extended Hong Kong's dominance in this race for the seventh straight year.

"The last thing Tony said was just worry about what you're doing and not everyone else," Purton said, "so I did that and I had the horse underneath me. I thought the pace was nice enough that I was able to wait a little bit and I just tried to wait until I got into the straight and then let him down.

"I let him roll into his gear and let him down, and in the end I never had to touch him with the whip. It was a pretty soft win and a good effort."

"He's just a super champion," Millard said, "and he can win over any distance. When I saw him picking them up, I thought, 'I hope he does not flatten out,' but they had gone a good lick so they were stopping."

Douglas Whyte, aboard Glorious Days, paid tribute to the winner.

"He jumped very well from the stalls and we have got a perfect trip," Whyte recapped. "My horse gave everything, but the winner was just too good on the day."

Packing OK edged Gordon Lord Byron for third, but the latter's jockey, William Buick, lodged a claim of foul. The stewards reviewed the contact between the two, but decided that it was insufficient to reverse the order. Thus the local sweep of the trifecta was ratified.

Zac Purton salutes aboard the reigning two-time Horse of the Year (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
"Great result for Hong Kong with the first three horses home trained here," said Weichong Marwing, who rode Packing OK.

"Maybe the horse (Gordon Lord Byron) does not quite stay the mile," Buick noted, "but he ran very well. Couldn't have asked much more from him."

Packing Whiz closed from well back for fifth, despite the fact that he bled.

"Coming back from the 2000 meters to the mile, he just lacked a bit of ping," jockey Brett Prebble said, alluding to his terrific fourth in the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup last out. "Trained specifically for a good mile race, he could win one."

Next came Japan's Sadamu Patek, Xtension, Pure Champion, Don Bosco, English-based Master of Hounds, Siyouma and Grand Prix Boss.

"She ran very flat today," was how Gerald Mosse summed up his view from Siyouma.

Ambitious Dragon was atoning for his loss on last year's International Races card, when only fourth in the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup. Owned by Johnson Lam Pui Hung and Anderson Lam Hin Yue, the six-year-old has now amassed a bankroll of nearly HK$53 million from his 23-12-5-0 line.

Bred by E.P. Lowry in New Zealand, Ambitious Dragon has spent his entire racing career in Hong Kong, demonstrating effectiveness over a range of distances. He shot to prominence in the 2010-11 season, equaling the Hong Kong record for seven wins during the term. Three were top-level events -- the Hong Kong Classic Cup, Hong Kong Derby and Queen Elizabeth II Cup over an international field -- and his compelling resume netted him Horse of the Year honors.

Ambitious Dragon gets a well-deserved kiss (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Expectations were accordingly high going into the 2011-12 season, and Ambitious Dragon looked ready to meet them with a stylish reappearance in the Group 3 National Day Cup. But a tough-trip second in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile, and his flat fourth in the Hong Kong Cup, brought him back to earth.

Ambitious Dragon righted the ship by capturing the first two legs of Hong Kong's Triple Crown, the Group 1 Stewards' Cup and Group 1 Hong Kong Gold Cup, and headed to Dubai with big hopes for the Group 1 Duty Free. Unfortunately, he got agitated amid the festivities of World Cup night and failed to do himself justice in seventh. Back home at Sha Tin, Ambitious Dragon was a staying-on fourth in the Group 1 Champions Mile. He stretched out to 1 1/2 miles to attempt a Triple Crown sweep in the Group 1 Champions & Chater Cup, but had to settle for second to Liberator. Yet Ambitious Dragon had done enough to repeat as Horse of the Year.

When Hong Kong's new season began this fall, Ambitious Dragon again started off on the right foot by dominating the Group 2 Sha Tin Trophy at a mile. He didn't duplicate that effort in the November 18 Jockey Club Mile, however, and was surprisingly outkicked by Glorious Days. Millard was undaunted in keeping Ambitious Dragon to a mile, and his confidence was rewarded.

Produced by the Oregon mare Golden Gamble, Ambitious Dragon descends from the same female line as New Zealand Group 1 victor No Mean City and Group 2 scorer Needuask.

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