The only good news for Caspar Fownes after yesterday's barrier draw for the HK$18.5 million Singapore Airlines International Cup is that the trainer can stop blaming himself because he wasn't even there.
Thumbs Up continued an extraordinary run of bad gates for Fownes-trained runners in major events when he came up with barrier 11 in the field of 13 runners, severely denting what looked a great chance for him to win the big event he always promised.
Fownes' other stable star, Lucky Nine, has had very wide draws in several of his major targets this season but Thumbs Up has fared even worse, with the seven-year-old in gate 11 or wider in four of his previous seven races this season.
The trainer recently banned himself from drawing the gates, so was blame-free this time, already in the air and on his way back to Hong Kong after spending 36 hours overseeing the final touches to the gelding's preparation in the past two mornings' soggy track sessions.
'The horse is great in himself - I couldn't be happier. The warm weather here suits him and there are no signs of the internal bleeding that everyone knows has been a niggling issue with Thumbs Up for a long time,' Fownes said before departing. 'His final serious work on Tuesday was great, he looked very well this morning just out for something light. The horse is great and I think he has the form to win the thing - all we need is a low draw because on the short course here, you just can't win coming from last.'
Dale Bussey, who is travelling with Thumbs Up for Fownes and riding his work, literally gave Tuesday's gallop a 'thumbs up' then his face creased with pain at the draw. 'Everything else was perfect and it looked his race - now it is complicated again,' Bussey said.
Barrier 11 will almost certainly force a negative 'ride for luck' tactic from Brett Prebble.
In a race that promises the same stop-start pace which brought California Memory unstuck 12 months ago as favourite,the Tony Cruz-trained grey fared better than the 13 marble he had in 2011.
'I think barrier six is OK for him. It will give him a chance to be a little closer without having to push him - like he was in the Hong Kong Cup he won in December,' said Cruz.
And John Moore-trained Zaidan, a solid fourth in the QE II Cup recently making use of a soft draw in gate five, drew even better with gate three at Kranji on Sunday.
'That's a nice draw - everyone seems to think the pace is a real query so Zaidan won't be too far away from the lead out of that draw,' said trainer John Moore's son, George, who is travelling with the four-year-old. 'He has been trouble free here, doing well. That draw is going to make him one of the chances.'
Godolphin's City Style, third in the Dubai Duty Free, also pulled a poor position in gate 10 but the big winner from the draw looked the German horse, Zazou, the mount of Andreas Suborics.
He was always on the speed finishing third in a muddling tempo in Hong Kong in December behind California Memory, and was already listed as favourite for the race by some internet bookmakers even before gate two ensured he can be right on the lead again without being used up.