Dragon and Memory among the big hitters out in force for Triple Crown 1st Leg
The heavy artillery is rolling out for the 1st Leg of the 2011/12 Hong Kong Triple Crown with Ambitious Dragon, California Memory and Able One among the big guns heading to Sha Tin on 29 January for the 1600m HKG1 Stewards' Cup on turf.
Such is the stellar quality of this year's Stewards' Cup that nine of the 14 runners feature in the recently published 2011 World Thoroughbred Rankings, with reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon rated 122.
Last season's HKG1 Mercedes-Benz HK Derby hero bids to restore his reputation after tasting defeat in his last two starts, most recently when fourth behind California Memory in the 2000m G1 Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Cup on 11 December.
Tony Millard’s charge, 'winner' of a smooth barrier trial over 1000m on 17 January, previously held California Memory in second place when landing the 2000m G1 Audemars Piguet QEII Cup in May.
"His barrier trial was nice and we've just freshened him up," revealed Millard. "We haven't done much since his race in December. The main thing was to make him happy and enjoy racing, and that's how we've approached his preparation.
"Everybody's there in the race, they've all come out to play, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out. Our only concern is that we want to see a genuinely run race – he's pretty versatile, so the drop back to a mile is not a problem."
Douglas Whyte partners the five-year-old in a race for the fifth time and is looking forward to Sunday's contest.
"Ambitious Dragon trialed with purpose," said the Champion Jockey. "He came through and did his job, and he’s in great order. He looks like he's thriving in the morning."
California Memory, who defeated several Stewards' Cup rivals when winning the HKG2 Sha Tin Trophy (handicap) over the course and distance in October, has a length and a quarter in hand of Ambitious Dragon on their CXHK Cup running. He pleased trainer Tony Cruz in a recent barrier trial, over 1200m on Sha Tin's all-weather track.
"Everything is spot on with California Memory. He has a great draw and is in excellent shape for the race. He trialed very nicely last week and I'm happy with him," commented Cruz.
Able One turned back the clock when triumphing over world class milers in this season's CXHK Mile on 11 December and the nine-year-old is one of five contenders from the John Moore stable.
Moore also has the 2011 G1 BMW Champions Mile victor Xtension, who flew from the rear and failed to overhaul his stablemate by only a neck in the CXHK Mile last time. The trainer's powerful hand also includes Destined For Glory, victorious by a short-head from Ambitious Dragon in the G2 CX Jockey Club Mile earlier in this campaign, CXHK Cup runner-up Irian and HK Champion Stayer Mighty High.
Moore's stable jockey Darren Beadman is back on board Able One, having watched Jeff Lloyd grab the glory in December while he had to settle for third on Xtension. Beadman is happy to be reunited with the veteran and is looking forward to a big run.
"He's been one of my favourites ever since I came here and he's been very good to me. Every time you ride him he gives 100 percent – he'll go to war for you," said the rider.
"I sat on him on Thursday and he worked very well and he also looked to have trialed quite nicely down the straight with Jeff (Lloyd) on. He's an old marvel, he's the type of horse that just makes his own luck. He's been lightly-raced and been wrapped in cotton wool for most of his career here, which has helped the longevity of his racing career. The thing about it is that he really enjoys his racing and he enjoys his work, so while he's thriving, I think there's still a bit of mileage left in his legs."
The Caspar Fownes-trained Thumbs Up was second in the 2400m G1 CXHK Vase at the Hong Kong International Races in December and the same handler also has Let Me Handle It, while John Size saddles a smart duo in Sight Winner and Sichuan Success. The last-named passed the line a short-head in front of California Memory in the aforementioned recent barrier trial.
Flying Blue makes his debut for the Derek Cruz stable, while Peter Ho relies on the useful Handsome Zulu. The Ricky Yiu-trained Outdoor Pegasus was less than three lengths 10th to Able One in the CXHK Mile.
The remaining two legs of the Hong Kong Triple Crown are the Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup (2000m) on 26 February and the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup (2400m) on 27 May.