Ambitious Dragon: won the Sha Tin Trophy on SundayPICTURE: Hong Kong Jockey Club
Ambitious Dragon at his best in Sha Tin Trophy
Report: Hong Kong, Sunday
Sha Tin: Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy (HK Group 2) 1m, turf, 3yo+
AMBITIOUS DRAGON (Tony Millard/Zac Purton) showed just why he remains the best horse in Hong Kong with a thoroughly convincing victory in his first assignment of the season, the Sha Tin Trophy, on Sunday.
All the brilliance that has led to the horse winning five Group 1 races in the the past was in evidence again as the dual Horse of the Year returned in style, and on this evidence he has few, if any, peers locally between 1m and 1m2f.
Leading jockey Zac Purton took the reins for the first time on the six-year-old and made the coveted ride his for keeps with a polished performance in a comfortable length and half success from Glorious Days as preparations for December's big international meeting began in earnest.
The victory was enhanced by the fact that Ambitious Dragon shouldered top weight and was not fully tuned up for the assignment, according to trainer Tony Millard.
"I like the way he won today and I like the way Zac rode him. Those were the most instructions I've ever given a jockey. From his inside gate there were so many options and we had to think about it carefully but Zac rode a copybook race," Millard said.
"He's such a versatile horse and the beauty about him is that he has developed gate speed then he relaxes in the run. But he still has that phenomenal speed in the finish. He's a unique horse."
Ambitious Dragon's next port of call will be the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile in three weeks with connections yet to decide whether they should target the Longines Hong Kong Mile or the slightly more valuable Longines Hong Kong Cup in December.
"We will enter him for both races and leave our options open until later on," Millard added. "We'll see who is coming and target the race we can win. But I'd like to give him another run over the mile first and take it from there."
The win formed the centrepiece of a treble for Purton who stretched his lead at the top of the jockeys' table with victories on the smart debutant Little Cow (Danny Shum) and the progressive Garlic Boy (Dennis Yip).
Also on Sunday
The Premier Bowl (Group 2), 6f, turf, 3yo+
A strong sense of deja vu surrounded the victory by Cerise Cherry (Derek Cruz/Richard Fourie) as the sprinter/miler reprised his 2010 victory of the Premier Bowl when he was also well-backed into second favouritism and won readily to set up a tilt at the Longines Hong Kong Sprint in six weeks.
It was not the strongest field ever assembled for a Group 2 sprint, nonetheless the lightly-weighted Cerise Cherry impressed in how he took care of his rivals having wrested the lead from pacesetting Aashiq at the furlong pole before quickening clear for a winning margin of two and a quarter lengths.
"He won this race two years ago but at the start of last season he was showing no interest and lost the plot completely. We gelded him and his form picked up in the late part of the season," trainer Cruz said. "He ran well last time out and today he has run a very good race."
Cerise Cherry will next start in Jockey Club Sprint on November 18 when he will meet better established sprinters such as Group 1 winners Little Bridge and Lucky Nine off level weights.
For South African jockey Fourie, the success marked the highlight of his maiden Hong Kong campaign having earlier won on the smart four-year-old Jolly Victor for Tony Millard.
Elsewhere, British trainer Sean Woods maintained his bright start to the season as the promising Goldland Dancer made it two wins from two outings in the Class 4 mile.