Derby draw points to thriller

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am


If the barrier draw for the 2012 Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby had been intended to open the contest up, then what emerged randomly at Sha Tin yesterday could not have been designed any better.

When connections of the 14 runners gathered in the parade ring for the draw ceremony, a quick poll might have listed Sweet Orange, Dominant and Fay Fay as the horses to beat and an exit poll might have had it the same way, but the level of confidence in at least two had taken a hit.

'I didn't mind drawing five and 10 - they just came out the wrong way,' said David Ferraris, after his nominal Derby favourite, Sweet Orange (Weichong Marwing), emerged with a double-figure gate and the stable outsider got the five draw. 'I wanted Sweet Orange drawn in to get smothered up and Liberator I would have preferred wider because of how he races - he can come out a little slowly and, from the inside, he runs the risk of being covered up if he does. It's out of my hands.

'Weichong wasn't worried. He said he won the Derby for Ivan Allan from the outside. He's just got to slot him in midfield and hope he can get out in the straight. Nothing has changed with the plan for Liberator - he goes forward and will be up front with, I suppose, Bullish Champion. Liberator is quite dour so he'll be making sure it is a decent gallop, not a crawl.'

Barrier 14 will be out for back-to-back Derby victories after Fay Fay drew the outside of the field, while John Size's other runner, Real Specialist, fared a little better in nine. 'Fay Fay has got a bit of work to do and needs a lot of luck to overcome that draw,' Size said. 'We'll have to give it some thought. Real Specialist is not too bad. The speed's outside him and I would think he'll race pretty handy.'

While two of the strongest chances suffered at the draw, John Moore was latching on to the positives for his record line-up of six runners - even if one of them, Dan Excel, will be in barrier 13. Luck just wasn't with Dan Excel's owner, David Boehm, who had five possible gates left, only one of them wide. When his turn came he got the second-widest barrier in the field.

'We were hoping for an inside draw with Dan Excel, he is a hard horse to settle so his work is going to be cut out, but the others are good gates,' Moore said. 'Military Attack is the one that benefited most with the three draw. He'll be back on the fence from there. If you look at his Royal Ascot run, he came from right off the speed and went between them with a hell of a turn of foot. Same World, from his European form, is versatile and will be right up behind the speed from four instead of back from wide gates he's had here so far.'

Neil Callan wasn't disappointed with barrier eight for Dominant.'I said I wanted to be drawn four to seven, or even eight, so I'm happy,' he said. 'He's going to settle and let the race unfold, and if I had a really low draw it might be difficult. From where we are, we have more options to be able to pull out for a run when we need to.'

Tim Clark, having his first Derby ride on the Moore-trained Smart Giant, said barrier 11 would not upset his plans. 'The idea was to ride him a bit quiet early anyway and let him use his turn of foot to hit the line late,' he said.

Statistically, the only draw that has not won a Derby in the past 30 years is gate five, and barriers one and 14 have been successful only once. The best results have come from gate two (six wins), gate three and gate 13, with five victories each. But since the distance changed from 1,800 metres to the trickier 2,000m 12 years ago, wider barriers have still figured strongly. Ambitious Dragon won the Derby from barrier 14, but there have been winners drawn 13 and 11, two from gate 10 and Collection won from barrier nine.