THREE Cathay Pacific-sponsored international G2s at Sha Tin today provided the overture for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong International Races on 11 December, and Hong Kong’s star performers were out in force in preparation for the main events.

But the day’s supposed Big Three all played false notes, although none of them left connections without hope of improvement at the CXHKIR themselves.

The greatest sensation was the overthrow of Ambitious Dragon in the Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Mile. Maxime Guyon had a nightmare run on the champion finding himself caught three or four wide throughout and perhaps closer to the lead than he would have liked.

As a result, although the horse’s phenomenal acceleration took him to the lead halfway up the straight, he had nothing left with which to resist Destined For Glory who came with a storming run under Tim Clark to nail him on the line. Three-quarters of a length back in third came the John Size-trained Flying Blue.

“He travelled really well,” said Clark of the winner, “and obviously it was a big advantage to us with the favorite tracking up wide. But he’s got a lovely turn of foot and he was strong all the way to the line.”

“It was a muddling pace and we were able to take advantage of it. But he deserved that win. He’s finished really strongly and now he’ll go for the CXHK Mile next month,” said the winning trainer John Moore.

Ambitious Dragon’s trainer Tony Millard was hardly downhearted however. “He was up very wide and quite close up and that’s not his style,” said the South African, “but he still went down by just a nostril. He hadn’t run for seven weeks and as things panned out we didn’t win, but the horse ran a great race. He was right on the day and of course we were hoping to win, but that was a great lead up to the (CXHK) Cup.”

“He’s still a champion. Don’t worry about that,” was Guyon’s comment.

Earlier the G2 Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Sprint had provided the first surprise, albeit a relatively mild one, as the Danny Shum-trained Little Bridge, expertly ridden by Gerald Mosse, proved just too strong for Entrapment. The son of Faltaat got first run on the favourite, and hard though Douglas Whyte tried to pull back the deficit he still had three quarters of a length to find at the line.

“I got the chance to ride him and we had the perfect race one back, one off,” said Mosse. “He was always travelling very easily. I didn’t have to make him work too hard, and I think we were able to leave something for the big race (The CXHK Sprint).”

“We trained him for the (Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong) Derby last year,” said a jubilant Shum, “but he wasn’t able to get the trip, and after that he was exhausted. So we gave him a good long break, and he’s come back so well. This year he looks fantastic, and he’s just been improving race by race. Now I hope we can win the big one in December.”

Entrapment also ran what may have been a decent trial for the G1 on 11 December as he made up ground in the straight without being able to get in a blow at the winner.

The G2 Cathay Pacific Jockey Club Cup provided another surprise as Thumbs Up triumphed for trainer Caspar Fownes and jockey Brett Prebble in a tight finish from Pure Champion and Irian. The surprise, though, was not that seasoned G1 performer Thumbs Up was capable of victory. It was that California Memory could finish only fourth. To be fair to the favourite, he had a very troubled run in the straight, being denied openings at least twice.

It was Thumbs Up’s first victory at 2000m after he had finished third to California Memory over a mile on his previous outing, but still his trainer felt he might ask today’s winner to stretch out even further next time. “He let down really well,” said Fownes, “and he was strong to the line. The plan is to send him for the Vase rather than the Cup because Ambitious Dragon just looks too strong, and the grey (California Memory) looked very unlucky today too. But we’ll have a think about it.”

Tony Cruz, trainer of California Memory, was naturally very disappointed. “He never had a run in the straight,” said Cruz. “He was boxed in all the time and just never had a run.”

But like the connections of the other beaten favorites on the day, Cruz had no reason to be despondent about today’s defeat. Today’s G2s may not have provided the crescendos they might have wished, but they will all go forward to the CXHKIR on 11 December with their hopes of the grand performance very much intact.