John Moore might have one hand on the trophy for his fourth BMW Hong Kong Derby on Sunday but the men seen as most likely to give him a scare have been around for too long to be conceding the $16 million Group One race.
Moore-trained Designs On Rome and Able Friend appear to have a stranglehold on the race and that will be reflected in the betting, but sure winners and match races have gone wrong before.
Betting markets have identified the main dangers as Tony Cruz-trained Beauty Flame, Douglas Whyte's mount, All You Wish, and Zac Purton-ridden Dibayani, and the great uncertainty of racing is out there lurking.
"I've won four Derbies in Hong Kong as a jockey and a couple more elsewhere, and two as a trainer and they are never two-horse races," Cruz said yesterday. "In the early days in professional racing here, I rode in actual two or three-horse races and still you could get surprise results, so with 14 runners you can definitely get a surprise. Things don't go as smoothly in a race as they look on paper, so to be overconfident can be a mistake."
Cruz believes that in Beauty Flame he has the right type of horse to cause an upset if there is going to be one.
"I don't think Able Friend will stay the distance and Designs On Rome deserves to be favourite, but my horse is improving all the time," Cruz said. "The two favourites have been here since last year. My horse only arrived this season so I think that gives him more scope for improvement. He'll run the distance and even though he was beaten by Flame Hero last time, he gave the winner a lot of weight and Flame Hero got a perfect trip."
Like most experienced jockeys, Whyte has been both the spoiler and the spoiled in match-race situations, and highlighted one factor that is often missed regarding the Derby start.
"Group One races are never over until they run the race - in racing 101 things can go wrong when the gates open," he said. "And that Derby start is unique, a test in itself. Not just because it is straight onto a turn but because the big, noisy crowd is right there next to the gates and some horses cope with that and some don't. With luck in running, sure, it's hard to see John Moore's two being beaten but in these races, you need everything to go right."
Moore himself has tagged Dibayani the horse that worries him most and Purton doesn't believe the race is all over.
"All of these horses have been targeted for this race, this day, so it's going to be very competitive out there and nobody is going to give an inch," he said. "People seem to think the pace will be good this year but I've seen that before and then your leader gets the front and steadies and everyone gets jammed up behind. The 2,000m races, you need a lot of luck even on the best horses."