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Glorious Days slays the Dragon; Gold-Fun on the rise in Hong Kong

Glorious Days turned the tables on Ambitious Dragon (behind with blue sleeves) (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Glorious Days fulfilled his immense potential and ensured that Douglas Whyte had an afternoon to remember with a storming victory in Sunday's Group 1 Stewards' Cup over a metric mile at Sha Tin.

Hong Kong's 12-time champion jockey headed home from the racecourse with a Group 1 double in the bag, after John Size's star miler augmented Whyte's victory of some 35 minutes earlier atop Gold-Fun in the Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Mile.

The Size-trained Glorious Days had always promised to deliver at the top level, and the five-year-old was in devastating form as he powered home by three quarters of a length from Dan Excel to notch a first top-flight triumph. The strong-closing California Memory, dropping down in trip from his repeat win in the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup, was the same distance back in third with defending champion Ambitious Dragon a disappointing fourth.

"He always promised to deliver a performance like that and today the race was very fast run and he was able to take advantage of that tempo," said Size, who was winning the contest for the fifth time following Electronic Unicorn (2002-03), Super Kid (2004) and Armada (2007).

"It was run so the overall time would be quick and it was, so it's a very good performance for him. He's improved through the winter and probably he's reached his best today."

Glorious Days leveled the score at two apiece with Ambitious Dragon for the season as he avenged defeat in last month's Group 1 Hong Kong Mile. He stopped the clock at 1:33 3/5 after settling fifth in the run behind the pacesetting Leading City.

"I could have been anywhere from the break," Whyte recapped, "but they took me along too quickly for my liking, so I've popped back and it was as if I've separated two races. I've had four in front of me and the rest behind and I was very comfortable where I was.

"He was stronger today than he felt last time and he ran on with a bit of purpose. Last time I thought I rode a perfect race and Ambitious Dragon was just too good on the day. Today I waited a fraction longer but I think had I gone earlier he would have still quickened up; and he was very strong at the line, which he hasn't been in the past. The penny's dropping and he's transforming into a racehorse!

"He just hasn't had the mental game -- he's a year behind them, he's like a young kid that hasn't matured or grown up. I've always said to John, there's so much untapped potential there and let's just hope he can continue to maintain his form -- he'll be a force to reckon with in those mile races."

Although the Stewards' Cup is the first jewel of the Hong Kong Triple Crown for older horses, Glorious Days is not expected to advance to the longer races, preferring to stick to shorter trips. He could head next to the Group 1 Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup at about seven furlongs at Sha Tin March 17 with an overseas option later in the season.

"There's a 1,400-meter race and other mile races, so it's mapped out for us in Hong Kong," Size said. "I think the Yasuda Kinen's (a Grade 1 in Japan in June) an ideal race for him. He went last year. He's had the experience, he traveled beautifully, so I think he'll go back a different horse this year and he'll probably perform a lot better."

Ambitious Dragon failed to reproduce his best form, with Hong Kong's two-time Horse of the Year lacking the electric turn of foot that has characterized his finest performances.

"Prior to straightening out it was a little bit tight and I had to hold my ground a bit," jockey Zac Purton said, "but he was able to go through there and I thought coming into the straight I was still going to win the race. But when I let him go, he just never let down today like he has been."

Gold-Fun will likely clash with highly-regarded stablemate Akeed Mofeed on the road to the Hong Kong Derby (Hong Kong Jockey Club)
Gold-Fun narrowly took the spoils in a thrilling climax to the Hong Kong Classic Mile to give trainer Richard Gibson a first top-flight success in Hong Kong. The chestnut gelding took the first leg of the Hong Kong Four-Year-Old Series by a diminishing neck under Whyte, in a quick time of 1:34 1/5.

"It's a huge moment in my career," said the Englishman, now in his second Hong Kong season. "It's very rare in any trainer's career to win a Group 1 with an improving horse and this horse can only get better."

Gold-Fun was forced to post three wide and midrank in the run after jumping from gate 8 as Wah May Star set a searching pace on the front end. As the field of 14 turned for home, Gold-Fun loomed large and when the pacesetter folded at the furlong marker, Whyte's mount found himself with only daylight and the winning post ahead.

"He just wasn't happy to lay up on the speed and obviously we were running too quick, so I've just dropped back a length or two and he's got comfortable," Whyte said.

"When I've swung into the straight and there were three or four in front of me still going forward, I've pressed the button thinking I'll get to them gradually by the 150 or 200 meters, and I think I was going by them at the 200 meters and was in front already."

Whyte's fears began to be realized as runner-up Garlic Boy stormed home from well back under Purton, but the line came in time for the redoubtable Gold-Fun who was making it three consecutive wins from four Hong Kong starts.

"He's got a phenomenal turn-of-foot and what I've really liked about him today is he dug down," Whyte noted. "His effort was for the full 400 meters, which you don't find often, so he was tough, thorough.

"It wasn't a big margin, but that doesn't matter. He still came home first and he did a great job," added the jockey, who won the race previously atop Tiber in 2004.

Gibson hailed Whyte's tactical nous and indicated that the winner could head to the Group 1 Hong Kong Classic Cup next time on February 17, where he could meet stablemate Akeed Mofeed. 

"You've got to give a lot of credit to Douglas because it wasn't the race we envisaged," the trainer revealed. "I thought it was quite a messy race. We certainly didn't envisage hitting the front that soon and that was one of our only concerns; but Douglas, being the top international jockey he is, adapted accordingly and I think the horse will be better over a longer distance as well.

"We're very lucky -- we've got a few options but this horse has got to run, he's got to learn, and it's very likely that he'll run in a month's time (in the Hong Kong Classic Cup)."

The Size-trained Happy Era took third, a further length back, while the John Moore-trained Ashkiyr hinted at his potential with a running-on fourth on only his second Hong Kong start.

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