By Bob Kieckhefer
Ambitious Dragon overcame a raft of problems, including an injury the day before the race, and still produced a dramatic run to win the Longines Hong Kong Mile (HK-I) Dec. 9 by three-quarters of a length.
The two-time and reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year had lost his local prep race to Sunday rival Glorious Days. He drew the outside, No. 12 gate for the Mile at Sha Tin Racecourse. And Saturday he lost a shoe and bruised a pastern, leading the veterinarian to put him on watch to start in the Mile.
Trainer Tony Millard said he and his staff worked all night on the 6-year-old gelding, walking him every two hours well into the night before his leg rounded back into shape. Ambitious Dragon passed a Sunday morning vet test.
Starting on the outside, jockey Zac Purton was forced to take up station at the rear of the field and bide his time behind what proved to be a satisfactory pace. Turning for home, Purton swung Ambitious Dragon widest of all, only to find himself following Glorious Days past the early leaders. In the final 50 yards, the champion found more and was drawing clear at the end.
Glorious Days finished second, 1 1/2 lengths better than longshot Packing Whiz. Irish runner Gordon Lord Byron, winner of the Prix de la Foret (Fr-I) at Longchamp, was a nose farther back in fourth and jockey William Buick filed an objection against Packing Whiz. The stewards let the result stand.
"It was really trying," Millard said of the late injury. "Up to 11 o'clock last night, we were still walking the horse. He got better hour by hour and by the time I left the barn at midnight, I felt good about his chances."
Purton said Ambitious Dragon "felt fine when he was out there on the track." When the field hit the turn, he said, "I just had to let him roll into gear. I never hit him with the whip. It was a pretty soft win, really."
Millard said he will not consider Dubai for his stable star but would consider shipping him elsewhere in 2013 if a race or two fit into his plans to wind up back at Sha Tin for next year's Hong Kong International Races. Ambitious Dragon has competed at longer distances and Millard said he can handle anything as long as he trains up to it.