California dreaming of glory
California Memory served a timely reminder of his talents when winning the Group Two Longines Jockey Club Cup at Sha Tin Racecourse on Sunday.
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Last year's Hong Kong Cup winner warmed up for a defence of his crown next month with a gutsy victory from Irian and Zaidan in the ten furlong contest by a short-head and the same.
"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," said winning rider Matthew Chadwick on the Hong Kong Jockey Club website.
"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: "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.
"So long as he pulls up sound again tomorrow, we're in for a serious race again on the big day," said the trainer of the talented six-year-old, who has been plagued by leg troubles.
"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."
Elsewhere on the card, Lucky Nine landed the Jockey Club Sprint ahead of a tilt at a second successive win in the Group One Longines Hong Kong Sprint back at the course and distance on 9 December.
Winning trainer Casper Fownes revealed: "It's always hard when we come back from Japan - 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%, so there's quite a bit of improvement there for the big day."
Glorious Days lowered the colours of Hong Kong's dual Horse of the Year Ambitious Dragon in the Group Two Jockey Club Mile.
He had been found wanting behind a devastating Ambitious Dragon when the pair made their seasonal returns last month over the course and distance.
But with John 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," said Size. "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 (Longines Hong Kong Mile), which is always a discomfort, but he's got three weeks to get over it. Hopefully he might repeat. 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."