03/29/2012 1:52PM

Dubai World Cup: Ambitious Dragon means business in Duty Free

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Neville Hopwood
Trainer Tony Millard has high expectations for Ambitious Dragon in the Dubai Duty Free.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – In a press conference earlier this week, Tony Millard, the trainer of the multiple Group 1 winner Ambitious Dragon, made it clear that he did not come to Dubai from Hong Kong to take in the sights.

“I wouldn’t come here for a holiday,” Millard said.

The South African-born Millard came here to win Saturday night’s $5 million Dubai Duty Free. In Ambitious Dragon it would appear he has the horse to beat in the 1 1/8-mile turf race, which drew a field of 16.

Ambitious Dragon has won 10 of 17 starts and is 2 for 2 this year with wins in the Stewards’ Cup and Hong Kong Gold Cup, both Group 1 races at Sha Tin. Though neither of those races was run at the distance of the Duty Free, Millard believes 1 1/8 miles is “his ideal distance . . . he can really turn it on.”

Ambitious Dragon will be racing the opposite direction to which he is accustomed, but Millard said he had the gelding train the correct way before shipping here.

“He looks around here a little bit compared to his routine back home, but he is on the correct lead going the left-handed way,” Millard said. “We did some prep work going the other way back home.”

The one drawback to Ambitious Dragon’s chances could be the apparent lack of pace in the Duty Free.

“He does come from the back, so we’re obviously hoping there is pace,” Millard said. “He got a nice draw. He’s a very relaxed-type horse, he’ll settle. If he’s a little bit closer it’s not the end of the world.”

Dark Shadow, first or second in nine of 11 starts in Japan, looks like a contender dropping back to 1 1/8 miles, a distance at which he has won both of his starts. He is coming off a second-place finish in a Group 2 race at Kyoto in February, his first start of the year.

Xtension has finished second to Ambitious Dragon twice in a row – and three times overall. He has not won since taking the Champions Mile at Sha Tin in April 2011.

“We feel he will run up to his best, but whether that will be good enough, having been second on three occasions to Ambitious Dragon alone, we shall see,” trainer John Moore said. “But he will run his race. I am confident of that.”

California Memory has changed his name and his shoes and hopes to change his luck in the Duty Free. California Memory, who formerly raced under the name Portus Blendium, has twice run third to Ambitious Dragon including in the Hong Kong Cup.

Trainer Tony Cruz said that California Memory came out of that race a little sore, “so we have gone back to normal shoes with him and he’s responding well to those.”

Await the Dawn, trained by Aidan O’Brien, could be the primary pace of the race. He has not run since finishing seventh after setting a pedestrian pace in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill, which was won by his stablemate St Nicholas Abbey.

Musir, trained by Michael De Kock, will likely be forwardly placed, stretching back out to 1 1/8 miles, a distance at which he won the Al Rashidiya from a stalking position in January. He is coming off a third-place finish to African Story in the one-mile Burj Nahaar, a one-mile race over the Tapeta surface.

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