Hong Kong prospects of reclaiming Sunday's HK$14 million Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sprint crown swelled at the barrier draw yesterday, but the foreign raiders lost no ground in the Mile and the Cup.
The Mile and Sprint appeared the most draw-sensitive of the four Group One internationals, but it was the Sprint (1,200m) where barriers impacted most after Singapore's Rocket Man came up with gate 13 and leading Japanese hope Curren Chan drew gate 11.
Rocket Man had a perfect trip from six when he was touched off by JJ The Jet Plane last year, the first time the trophy had left Hong Kong in almost a decade, and trainer Patrick Shaw wasn't sugar-coating it.
'I won't say I'm not fazed by 13, but what can you do? It's always difficult from a wide draw and especially in a field of 14,' he said. 'Anyway, that's the jockey's job now, to work it out.'
Akiko Suzuki, wife of Curren Chan's owner, said they had been hoping for something lower but were taking positives from it. 'We wanted five, but there was nothing left. I think she does not want to be sandwiched, so gate 11 will be fine. And Rocket Man drew wider.' With the exception of Ricky Yiu Poon-fai, whose ageing champion Sacred Kingdom faces a big task from the extreme outside, there was no hiding the positive energy from the Hong Kong camp after Lucky Nine (six), Little Bridge (three) and Entrapment (five) emerged with ideal grid positions.
In a tactical Mile where the draw looked crucial, New Zealand's Jimmy Choux is perfectly placed in gate two, but so are French visitor Rajsaman (four) and local hopefuls Xtension (five), Destined For Glory (one), Fair Trade (three) and Flying Blue (six).
'I'm very happy. We can sit in behind or he can do it from the front, if that's what his jockey wants,' said Jimmy Choux's trainer, John Bary.
John Moore's confidence gained with the draws for Xtension and Destined For Glory and he declared the Champions Mile winner the favourite.
'Xtension is my major hope on Sunday. He has been absolutely primed for it. His work and races leading up have been very positive and from that draw he is the horse to beat,' he said.
Likely leaders Able One and defending champion Beauty Flash came up with gates seven and 10 respectively, though Beauty Flash has won all of his Group Ones from wide gates and had gate 14 last year so trainer Tony Cruz was unconcerned.
But English trainer Roger Charlton had no joy with Cityscape. 'I can't believe it. Up first in both the Sprint and the Mile and I draw 12 both times! What are the chances of that?' he wondered.
In the Hong Kong Cup (2,000m), the likely favourites fared perfectly with Cirrus Des Aigles in two, Ambitious Dragon five and Byword in six.
Corine Barande-Barbe, trainer of Cirrus des Aigles, delegated the draw to the owners after poor picks in 2009 and 2010.
'I asked the co-owner, Jean-Claude Dupouy, to draw it himself because he's a lucky man. Two years ago, my assistant drew 12 and last year I got 13! We have a much better start here.'
Jockey Douglas Whyte couldn't have been happier with Ambitious Dragon's five draw. 'It's a lovely gate. From there, I'll have options but I doubt that I'd ride him forward. I'm happy for him to settle and use his great turn of foot,' he said. Moore's runner-up last year, Irian, didn't have his chance improved by the outside barrier, while Gold Cup winner California Memory's barrier one draw looked a mixed blessing after the backmarker found traffic from a low gate recently.
'He is one horse I wouldn't have minded getting an outside number,' said jockey Matthew Chadwick.
Most trainers for the Vase (2,400m) were unconcerned by draws, but exceptions were Red Cadeaux's trainer, Ed Dunlop, who was delighted with seven, and Caspar Fownes, who received a good batch of alleys.'I'm especially happy with Thumbs Up from one in the Vase. He may not be as strong a stayer as some, but he won't have to do anything through the run and we know he has terrific acceleration,' he said.