Horse Racing
Five years after Ambitious Dragon’s HKIR win, Rispoli hopes his little brother Packs plenty on IJC night

By Andrew Hawkins
05/12/2017 17:49

Packing Dragon (inside) holds off Big Bang Bong to win a Class 2 1800m event at Happy Valley last May.
Packing Dragon (inside) holds off Big Bang Bong to win a Class 2 1800m event at Happy Valley last May.

Umberto Rispoli may not be participating in the LONGINES International Jockeys Championship (IJC) at Happy Valley on Wednesday night (6 December), but the Italian rider is hopeful of making an impact regardless in front of a global audience when he partners Packing Dragon in the Class 2 Brazil Handicap (1800m).

The four legs of the IJC – races four, five, seven and eight – are restricted to the 12 participating riders in the series, but the other five events on the card are open to any of Hong Kong’s licensed jockeys as well. For Rispoli, that means four rides at the meeting.

“It’s always exciting to be in the jockeys’ room on a night like this,” Rispoli said at Sha Tin on Tuesday morning (5 December). “I know a few of the guys coming in, and there’s a bit of a buzz around. It’s nice to have a few rides otherwise.”

Packing Dragon (133lb), a Mastercraftsman half-brother to 2012 LONGINES Hong Kong Mile winner Ambitious Dragon, carries topweight in Wednesday’s Class 2. It was a mark earned through four wins at Happy Valley last season, including three over 1800m.

Last start, Packing Dragon finished 14 lengths from runaway winner Classic Emperor on the dirt with Rispoli aboard – a run that is best forgotten, according to the jockey.

“He was never in the race,” Rispoli said. “I don’t think he was as fit as he is now. Of course he needs a couple of races to bring him up to the mark. I galloped him over 800m down the back straight at Sha Tin last Thursday, the horse feels very well and I think he’s in good form now.

“Happy Valley is his track, the 1800m suits, I think from the nice draw it would be better if he can jump out and lead. If he can dominate, he is always hard to run down.”

On this night last season, Packing Dragon also lined up in the same Class 2 handicap over 1800m. Ridden by Mickael Barzalona, he recorded fast early splits – so fast, in fact, that the two horses that were with him on the speed finished second-last and last. However, he kicked three lengths clear and was only run down in the shadows of the post to finish third, beaten a head by subsequent G3 winner Supreme Profit.

“It was such a good run last year,” Rispoli said. “He didn’t have much weight but the way that he kicked under Mickael, it was very good to see. If he can run to that level, he can win again for sure. It’s such an open race this year but I believe he’s still able to win off his current mark.”

Racing in similar blue and white colours to Packing Dragon is bottom-weight Rickfield (113lb). The Tony Millard-trained galloper will be partnered by Frenchman Alexis Badel, who reunited with the Dansili gelding last start having ridden him to a longshot victory in February.

“I’m very happy with how the horse is going,” Badel said. “He is a bit difficult, he can be a bit too ambitious early and can be a bit keen. I think Happy Valley is a perfect track for him because the pace is usually quite fast, so it helps him to relax.”

Rickfield is one of two horses racing for Yue Yun Hing, with the owner also sending out Richard Gibson-trained debutant Goldfield (122lb). Previously named He Runs Away, he was a two-time G1 winner in Argentina and has not raced since finishing ninth to Thunder Snow in the G2 UAE Derby (1900m) at Meydan in March.

Also lining up in the nightcap is another South American G1 winner, former Brazilian galloper Salto Olimpico (118lb), as well as three last-start winners: Dinozzo (131lb), The Golden Age (122lb) and Lucky Girl (121lb).

The Class 2 Brazil Handicap ends the card at 10.50pm, with the opener, the Class 5 United States Of America Handicap (1650m), set to begin at 6.30pm. The first leg of the LONGINES International Jockeys Championship comes up at 8.10pm.