Able Friend may have emerged with the lower barrier draw for the HK$16 million BMW Hong Kong Derby yesterday, but his trainer John Moore deviated from the popular wisdom that stablemate Designs On Rome had fared the worst.
The two four-year-olds have dominated discussion of the event and will stand out in the betting on Sunday after finishing first and second in both of the lead-up races; many thought the pendulum had swung back away from Designs On Rome after he drew barrier 10 and his arch-rival emerged with gate five.
The 2,000m events at Sha Tin begin on a turn that goes for 600m, and the starting point has a treacherous history of making horses pay dearly for wide running, but Moore was not buying the simplicity of that argument and believes Designs On Rome's place as his first elect was not weakened by the wider launch.
"No, I don't think anything has changed at all," said Moore.
"Actually, from barrier 10 that Designs On Rome is still the better suited - a lot of the slower horses look like they will be on the inside and this way we can get around them instead of having them drop back in our face.
"Designs On Rome is going to go back early, I can see him about three quarters of the way back, perhaps three wide, but with cover and from there he is not going to get into any traffic jams."
On the other hand, Moore did agree that drawing low would assist Able Friend with the distance.
"I'm not worried about Designs On Rome - he can make a long sustained run for 600m - but Able Friend can't and the inside draw will see him get a nice cushy run behind the speed to help him with the stamina issue," he said.
"But he will be vulnerable to the traffic problems when a few of the lesser-rated runners begin to struggle and Joao [Moreira, jockey] will have to have a little bit of luck to navigate around them."
Moore goes in four-handed and maintains his confidence that Secret Sham and Travel Brother can also take a slice of the prize money.
"I think if you took out my top two, Secret Sham would be the favourite and I don't think barrier nine is any concern - he'll race fairly forward, as will Travel Brother even from 13," the trainer said. "They both worked exceptionally this morning on the turf.
"[Jockey] Neil Callan said Secret Sham has never been fitter than he is now and is peaking at the right moment and Brett Prebble jumped off Travel Brother and said, on that work, he'll run third-fourth-fifth, thereabouts.
"We've got some confident jockeys on all four that they are going to run well."
Tony Cruz may hold the key to the pace, with designated leader Bullish Boy in gate 11 and the stable's better-fancied on-pace runner Beauty Flame in eight, but he does not see Beauty Flame leading.
"There are a few fast ones there - Bullish Boy and Dr Good Habit look the fastest in the race and they will probably lead them up and ideally Beauty Flame can position right behind them," Cruz said.
Michael Chang Chun-wai had the best and worst of the draw, with Tableaux in two and Dibayani in 14, but was comfortable with both.
"Gate 14 is a lucky gate - in the last three years, two winners have come from gate 14," he said.
"Tactically, we have no choice. Dibayani has to go back and ride for luck anyway, slow pace or fast pace, but I don't think the pace in the race will be slow."
Jockey Olivier Doleuze said he intends to ride Tableaux positively from that draw. "He is a real stayer and I want him to be up there and make sure that this is a stayer's race," he said.