THE Mike de Kock-trained mare River Jetez was beaten into sixth place in Sunday’s Group 1 Audemars Piquet QEII Cup over 2000m in Hong Kong. There was plenty of joy still for South African racing enthusiasts. The race was won by former South African champion trainer Tony Millard’s star Ambitious Dragon, ridden by Douglas Whyte, the South African-born multiple champion jockey of Hong Kong.
River Jetez’s jockey Bernard Fayd’Herbe felt that the mare ran a few lengths below her best and said: “It was very tight on the first corner and she had the worst of it and was struggling to get on the bit after that. She did kick in the straight but not quite well enough. She can be so temperamental and I’m not sure she was right on her game.”
Doug Whyte gives his victory salute on Tony Millard-trained Ambitious Dragon. (hkjc.com).
That said, River Jetez beat half of the field home and earned $280 000 for her effort. She has been entered for the Group 1 Singapore Cup later this month and will arguably be better suited to the longer run-in at Kranji Racecourse. De Kock will be discussing future plans for the seven-year-old, including participation in Singapore’s biggest race, with her owners.
HKG1 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby winner Ambitious Dragon, already clear leader in the ratings search for Hong Kong’s most improved racehorse of the 2010/11 season, proved himself a marvel of durability as well as an international G1 performer of the highest class when producing the blazing finish that has become his trademark and blow away the opposition in the 2011 Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
Millard’s champion, owned by Johnson Lam Pui Hung, won by three quarters of a length from the fast finishing Tony Cruz-trained California Memory with one of the John Moore quartet of runners, Mighty High, staying on well for third. But as in all his recent victories, it was the devastating effect of his acceleration that stuck in the memory rather than the margin of victory.
Ambitious Dragon provided Whyte with his third APQEII Cup win after victories on London News and Oriental Express in 1997 and 1998 respectively.
“It all went so sweetly in the race,” said Whyte, who took over the mount from Maxime Guyon after the young Frenchman had been unable to come to Hong Kong because of obligations at home. “The only bit of aggro came in the stalls when he wanted to put his head down once, then did it again just before they opened. In fact he could almost have lost the race at the gate. But after he’d come out a bit more slowly than the others he did everything right, and when I asked him to go he was in front in a matter of about three strides.
“I suppose I have to thank Monsieur Andre Fabre for asking Maxime Guyon to stay in France,” joked the champion jockey, “but when you’re looking for good rides it’s every man for himself! It was great to ride another APQEII Cup winner for another South African trainer too because I started my career here by winning this race on London News. I think I had the whole of South Africa behind me then.”
The race was another triumph for trainer Tony Millard who admitted he had feared the campaign, which began back in October, might have been too long for his star performer who has now equalled the Hong Kong record of seven wins in a season established last year by Entrapment: “I was very worried in the weeks from the Derby to here because I felt we’d really squeezed him for the Derby. But he’s come back up again, and to get left at the start as well, it just shows how good he is. The horse comes first and he’ll take a break now. We’ll look at the local races first next season before we start thinking about races overseas, because I think this horse could be around at the top for another two or three years if we look after him properly.”
Asked about Ambitious Dragon’s spectacular improvement, Millard added: “We knew what he was doing wrong and we knew that if we got that right he would start to improve, but we couldn’t have guessed by how much.”
Owner Johnson Lam echoed the sentiment: “When I bought him I thought he’d be a good horse but I never imagined he’d be as good as this.” – from hkjc.com, edited, additions made.