Ambitious Dragon: beat Lucky Nine to win second Horse of the Year titlePICTURE: SK Hon
Dragon secures second Horse of the Year title
Report: Hong Kong, Sunday
AMBITIOUS DRAGON was named Horse of the Year for the second consecutive season as Hong Kong racing packed up for another campaign at Sha Tin on Sunday.
The most coveted title at the Champion Awards was unusually open this time around with Lucky Nine and Royal Ascot winner Little Bridge also holding strong cases, but the award went to the highest-rated performer stabled at Sha Tin who won a Group 3 and two local Group 1 races during the season - the Stewards Cup and the Citibank Hong Kong Gold Cup - in terrific style.
Only Ambitious Dragon and Lucky Nine had won two Group 1 races throughout the term and many felt Lucky Nine's victory in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint in December would give him the edge, having also won the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup locally and performed overseas with distinction on three occasions.
But the voting panel, comprising six members of the HKJC and the Association of HK Racing Journalists, chose Ambitious Dragon who arguably remains the most individually talented horse in Hong Kong on his day, even if the bare results of the season past make him the most contentious recipient of the top honour for some time.
The New Zealand-bred five-year-old also won the Champion Miler and Middle Distance categories, which few could have grumbled about.
Connections of Lucky Nine, trained by Caspar Fownes, might also have felt aggrieved as their Irish import was overlooked in the Champion Sprinter division in favour of the King's Stand Stakes hero Little Bridge, whom he beat decisively in their three head-to-heads over the distance since December.
Little Bridge, trained by Danny Shum, was the only Hong Kong horse to land a major event overseas throughout 2011-12, in addition to a pair of local Group 2 victories and a Group 3.
Also voted the Most Popular Horse by racing fans, he is scheduled to race next in the Sprinters Stakes in Japan early in October.
Doug Whyte: 12th jockeys' titlePICTURE: Edward Whitaker
Trained by David Ferraris, Liberator was the obvious choice for Champion Stayer having denied Ambitious Dragon a clean sweep of the Triple Crown in the Standard Chartered Champions & Chater Cup over 1m4f in May.
Douglas Whyte, who forfeited three winners on the final day's racing owing to a niggling shoulder injury sustained in a fall a week earlier, won a 12th consecutive jockeys' championship with 107 winners in total. The public also voted Whyte as their Most Popular Rider for the seventh year.
"It's been a great season," Whyte said. "I got plenty of support, got close to my own previous record of winners and was able to nick a few big races as well.
"I think the highlight was winning the Derby on Fay Fay for John [Size, trainer]. We have had a close working relationship over many years, of course, but also he's a great mate and to win a race of that prestige for him capped a really good year."
Zac Purton broke Brett Prebble's six-year hold on the runner-up spot in the jockeys' standings on 64 winners one ahead of his Australian compatriot, who missed almost a quarter of the campaign owing to injury, suspension and overseas engagements.
John Size was crowned champion trainer for the seventh time since his arrival in 2001 with 70 winners to dethrone John Moore who finished runner-up but was again by far the leading handler in terms of prize-money accrued.
Ben So, one of the more improved local riders, lifted the champion apprentice title although had rival Vincent Ho not sustained a broken arm in February fall the outcome might have been different.
The 2012-13 Hong Kong season will commence on Saturday, September 8 at Sha Tin.
To view the full list of award winners, please visit the Hong Kong Jockey Club.