UNDER a ride full of panache from Maxime Guyon, hot favorite Ambitious Dragon, trained by Tony Millard for owner Johnson Lam Pui Hung, delivered exactly what his fans have come to expect of him when coming with a strong late run to overpower the leaders and win the HK$16 million HKG1 2011 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby at Sha Tin on Sunday.

The John Moore-trained Xtension kept on well for second three quarters of a length behind the winner, with Let Me Handle It, trained by Caspar Fownes almost four more lengths behind in third and another John Moore horse, Jacobee, a full six lengths behind the winner in fourth.

Although the winning margin was less than a length Ambitious Dragon always seemed to have the measure of the runner-up in the last 200m and with such a long gap back to the remainder of his rivals he gave the distinct impression in this, his fourth consecutive victory and his second HKG1, that he may be a Derby winner of unusual quality.

It can hardly be called a triumph without problem as Guyon had to find a way to victory from the outside gate, but the Frenchman accomplished his task without mishap as the class of the son of Pins helped him through.

“I am very, very happy,” said the winning jockey, who had flown from France for the ride, through an interpreter. “He was a big favorite but he did everything I asked. I am so happy with him and so full of confidence too for future races. I only had to whip him once and I think he is sure to be an international G1 horse of the future.”

“I didn’t worry about the draw,” said a jubilant Millard afterwards, although no horse had won the Derby from Gate14 since the race distance was changed to 2000m at the start of the millennium.

“I just worried about the horse. But after the draw I went to look at him and he looked so well I had no doubts. You get a horse like this just once or twice in a lifetime and I just feel lucky to have him. Maxime rode him an absolute treat. At one point he was blocked too, but the horse was good enough in spite of that. He’s one of those you just dream about.

“It’s been a tough time,” added the South African, referring to the stable’s shortage of big race success since his previous 2000 Derby winner Keen Winner, a horse he rates much inferior to today’s victor. “We’ve had a long time in the wilderness, and I just hope people will start believing in us now as we’ve always believed in ourselves.”

Millard was keen to share the credit with his staff: “Particularly Carol Yu who is a very, very good assistant trainer and is 110 per cent dedicated. Ambitious Dragon will definitely go for the (Audemars Piguet) QE II Cup on 1 May now and after that he’ll have a spell. He’s earned it, hasn’t he. Not many horses progress from Class 4 to win the Derby, but he’s done that.”

Not only has he done that, but he’s become the first horse in Hong Kong to score six times this season. If he now goes on to further triumph in the APQEII Cup, he will have equalled the Hong Kong seasonal record of seven victories set last year by Entrapment.

A combined total of 46,566 attended to watch Ambitious Dragon’s moment of glory, an increase of almost 7,000 on attendance for the same event in 2010.




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