Glorious upset of Dragon; California Memory takes thriller at Sha Tin

John Size is hoping for a repeat run from stable star Glorious Days in the Group 1 Hong Kong Mile December 9, after the five-year-old lowered the colors of Hong Kong's dual Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon in the Group 2 Jockey Club Mile at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday.

Glorious Days had been found wanting behind a devastating Ambitious Dragon when the pair made their seasonal returns last month in the Group 2 Oriental Watch Sha Tin Trophy over the course and distance. But with Size's charge sporting first-time blinkers, it was a different story this time as he landed his first group race win.

"He has always promised to do that -- it was just a matter of whether he delivered," Size said. "We were thinking about (blinkers) as soon as he got into group company, when he started to look as though he was intimidated a couple of times in defeat.

"I don't think you could ask more of his effort today. It's a pretty big run going into a big race, which is always a discomfort, but he's got three weeks to get over it.

"Hopefully he might repeat," the trainer added. "I think if he just repeated that run that would be enough. To ask him to step up after a run such as that would be asking too much."

After posting on the rail in midfield, immediately inside of Ambitious Dragon, Glorious Days moved through strongly at the top of the straight under Douglas Whyte. And with his big rival unable to unleash the brilliant burst that wowed the Sha Tin faithful last time, Glorious Days quickened to lead about 1 1/2 furlongs out, crossing the line a commanding 1 1/2 lengths to the good in a time of 1:34 on the good turf. 

"I always thought, in the last four runs, that he would need blinkers and that they would really switch him on," Whyte said, "but you never know until you get to raceday.

"I've never traveled so sweetly on him since the first time he ran. He helped me out through the run and when I've pressed the button, he's taken up any slack and taken the gap that I've wanted and just been a man about it.

"You always get nervous when you're on the fence with Ambitious Dragon on your outside but I had a one-off position, I was posting him a little bit, so he was seeing a bit of daylight -- but forgetting all that, I got the run and I let down and I beat him fair and square."

The Tony Millard-trained Ambitious Dragon, conceding five pounds to the winner, filled the runner-up berth under Zac Purton, while Pure Champion was a further half-length back in third.

In the Group 2 Jockey Club Cup, the course-and-distance tune-up for the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup, California Memory reminded his rivals that he still wears the crown as he warmed up for a December 9 title defense with a gutsy last-gasp victory.

Drawn widest in gate 12, the diminutive gray showed the battling qualities and devastating late drive that have made him a favorite with Hong Kong race fans, as he swept from the tail to grasp the spoils in the final stride of the 1 1/4-mile contest -- his first win since last December's Hong Kong Cup.

"They went a bit hard up front, which suited us, but we were just running our own race and he finished the race off well enough to win," winning rider Matthew Chadwick said. "He's definitely improved for his last run and hopefully he'll pull up sound, and we'll be looking for the big one in December. He's a small horse but he's got the biggest heart!"

Trainer Tony Cruz echoed those sentiments after watching his stable star overcome a bump at the three-sixteenths mark to overhaul the John Moore-trained Irian on the nod by a short head. Moore's Zaidan was a further short head back in third, and Packing Whiz was a close fourth. California Memory stopped the clock in a smart 2:01 2/5.

"When he pulled up after his last run he was sound -- he wasn't sore even -- so I was very happy about that and I was confident he was coming here with a great chance today," Cruz said of the talented six-year-old, who has been plagued by leg troubles.

"So long as he pulls up sound again tomorrow, we're in for a serious race again on the big day.

"We weren't afraid of gate (12) either," Cruz said. "The race panned out pretty fast, which suited us perfectly, so long as Matthew just took his time.

"He came on very strong and giving five pounds to the field, you can see how big his heart was in the final stages. He just kept digging deep and at the top of the straight he got a little bump too.

"Heading into the big race on December 9, I'm very happy providing he pulls up sound. I think if he's sound and not sore, he'll be just as good as he was last year."

A significant scratch from the Jockey Club Cup was Dominant, who was found to be lame in his left hind leg.

Lucky Nine sent out a warning to would-be challengers with a classy victory in the Group 2 Jockey Club Sprint, a performance that sets him up for a tilt at a second successive win in the Group 1 Hong Kong Sprint back at this course and six-furlong distance on December 9.

Caspar Fownes' charge, having his first start since a brave but unfortunate fifth in September's Grade 1 Sprinters Stakes in Japan, traveled strongly into the stretch under Brett Prebble and kicked to the lead under hands and heels with a furlong to go. And the jockey only had to resort to the whip twice close home to keep at bay the late-closing Moore-trained runner-up Time After Time.

"It's always hard when we come back from Japan," Fownes said. "The horses tend to lose their coats and go off the boil a little bit. He did the same again this year, but he wasn't as bad as last season. I felt he was just starting to come, and today I reckon I had him about 85 percent, so there's quite a bit of improvement there for the big day.

"Brett gave him a good run. He was jogging on the corner, and I think his condition gave out the last 50 meters, but he was good enough to win it. It was a good run by the second horse, but in saying that, I feel in the next three weeks Lucky Nine's going to really come on for this run, and he has a great record third up so I'm looking forward to December 9. He was a little bit off in his coat and there's nothing like a race to bring on a horse's coat.  

"He's one of the top horses in Hong Kong and I knew even at 85 percent he was going to be right there today. I said to Brett, under no circumstances should he punish him so he's going to come on a lot from that."

Prebble was delighted with Lucky Nine, who scored by a head from the slow-starting Time After Time in a time of 1:08 4/5. Moore's Admiration was a further three-quarters of a length away in third.

"He came into the race lovely and gave me a really good feel," Prebble said. "He just dragged me up to the furlong pole, and when I let him down he gave me a nice kick. In the last 50 meters, he was found wanting a bit and he'll come on from that. Caspar hasn't squeezed him right up with the big one coming up in December, so he's really put his hand up to be the major player for Hong Kong in the Sprint again."

Singapore raider Super Easy tracked the pace but was outpaced in the final stages as he crossed the line 3 1/2 lengths away in sixth. Super Easy, who lost his left front shoe, was found to have bled.

Hong Kong's top-rated sprinter, the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes hero Little Bridge, was unable to land a blow as he finished ninth of the 14 runners.

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