At any other time in the past 12 months, the absence of Ambitious Dragon would have meant short-priced favouritism for California Memory over the Sha Tin 2,000 metres in tomorrow's Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup.
The winner of the 2011 Gold Cup at the trip, second to Ambitious Dragon and possibly unlucky in this race last year and again the winner at international Group One level in the Hong Kong Cup in December - California Memory's course and distance form doesn't get much better than that.
Yet two recent runs short of his usual standard have the grey and his trainer on the back foot this week.
Even before a wide barrier draw on Thursday, Tony Cruz seemed to be lacking his trademark confidence ahead of one of the few name races to have eluded him as a trainer, although he won it twice as a jockey in the 1980s when it was a humble domestic Class Two.
'If you look at his form at the distance, yes, it is very good and if he performs like that then he is going to run a really big race, but he has had complications since Dubai,' Cruz warned.
When California Memory was third in the Gold Cup in February, before Dubai, jockey Matthew Chadwick raised the alarm about the horse's well-being, saying he 'didn't finish off like he usually does' and the reasons surfaced a day later with back and joint soreness.
The stayer was put back together for the trip to Dubai, then ran virtually the worst race of his career in the Duty Free on World Cup night, this time beaten 13 lengths in finishing 12th and the joint issues emerged again.
'California Memory was sore in a hind leg, so we had him X-rayed and found the problem in a fetlock joint,' Cruz said. 'We medicated the joint and gave him some time and he seemed to be over it when he trialled the other day.
'He won the trial strongly and I was very pleased with how he went and then the vets passed him OK to run on Sunday, but the reality is he still has to perform again like we know he can.
'Once you start medicating their joints, you have to keep doing it, like maintenance. I'm hoping for his usual big run, but if he doesn't perform on Sunday then there is something going on with him.'
Cruz has a back-up in Pure Champion, a horse who has quietly nudged his way up the ladder this term after failing to settle in last season. However, he has his issues as well after coming out of his latest run behind Thumbs Up with a swollen right front fetlock.
'Pure Champion trialled well, too, but the draw won't help him. He needs to get cover or he gets too keen in his races and won't finish off, but he has come good this season and could surprise people,' Cruz said.
'Last year, he had cracked hooves and cracked heels all the time and mucus problems as well.
'Those hoof problems are really a problem because he hates anyone even touching his feet.
'He's been hurt there and remembers it, and it means we have to sedate him every time he is shod.'Topics: Alan Aitken Tony Cruz Queen Elizabeth II Cup Dubai Dubai Alan Aitken Tony Cruz