Leading trainer John Size goes into tomorrow's Mercedes-Benz Hong Kong Derby double-handed with Real Specialist and Fay Fay, but his most important weapon as he hunts the HK$16 million classic might come from a rival stable, according to champion jockey Douglas Whyte.
That Fay Fay is up to winning the Derby isn't open to question - the betting market has sent him out a hot favourite twice to beat most of the same horses in the Classic Mile and Classic Cup, only to see the gelding fail to deliver.
So what changes tomorrow could bring Size his first Hong Kong Derby?
'Bullish Champion is what changes on Sunday,' said Whyte as he prepared for a live chance to add another Derby to his triumph two years ago on Super Satin. 'Even though I haven't been on him, I've watched Bullish Champion and he is a key factor in this Derby. When he is in between horses, or with horses around him, he seems to get keen but he relaxes when he is out in front on his own, that's his natural pattern.
'The only hope for him to be relaxed enough for 2,000m in the Derby is to be out in the lead and Matthew Chadwick rating him. And that should ensure the race is run at a consistent speed where all the horses are able to gallop along comfortably. It doesn't have to be a crazy speed for Fay Fay, but a good even speed and that's what we haven't had in those other Group Ones.'
When Fay Fay was touched off by Sweet Orange in the Classic Mile at odds-on, the race was run at a tempo that would have embarrassed Class Four horses and unsettled most of the field. Then the Classic Cup (1,800m) was another stop-start race that upset the chances of several runners, including Fay Fay, fourth this time as the short-priced favourite again.
'Because of the muddling pace and an awkward draw, he struck interference through the race and just didn't get a fair crack again,' Whyte said. 'If you look back at when Fay Fay has been impressive, it is when he's had a true pace. He has got into a nice rhythm and kept his momentum up. Even when he has won in slowly run races, he hasn't looked the same.'
And then Fay Fay drew the outside gate in 14 on Thursday to further confound his chances.
Ambitious Dragon was victorious in the 2011 Derby from barrier 14, and is the only horse to win from the outside since the race moved to 2,000m and the ugliest starting point at Sha Tin. No horse in the past 30 years had won the race from gate 14 even before that, regardless of the shape of the course or the distance.
Still, statistics are a wonderful buffet - you can take from them what suits you. While Derby stats don't make pretty reading, the recent history of majors in general from the 2,000m start is another thing. Five of the last eight Group races decided there have been won from barrier 11 or wider - and California Memory's Hong Kong Cup was the first 2,000m black-type race won from gate one for almost nine years.
'It's a terrible draw, there's no getting away from that and it's something we have to deal with,' Whyte grimaced. 'We don't have many options and he isn't the kind of horse you can dig up at the start and try to follow Bullish Champion across. That draw pretty much takes away any tactical decisions, but Fay Fay will be better for the extra distance. And a good speed.'
Fay Fay hasn't won a Group One in Hong Kong yet.
- The gelding was 4th in the Classic Cup and 2nd in the Classic Mile