The barrier draw for the HK$20 million Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup was largely being dismissed as a mere detail on Thursday but the function to conduct it failed to answer what looms as the main question of the race: the speed map.
In a field of only eight, there were many happy to shrug off the draw as unimportant although John Moore, looking for his fourth win in five editions of the race, said he had no reason to be unhappy with gate one for the 2014 winner Designs On Rome, a noted back-marker, and two for defending champion Werther, who is more versatile and would be the first winner from that draw since London News in 1997.
“Couldn’t be happier with the draws,” Moore said. “As for tactics, I just expected that Neorealism will lead the race and we’ll sit behind him with Werther and we know what Designs On Rome does, he’ll drop out to last early.
“But, if somehow the race works out differently up on the speed, well I’ll leave it up to Hugh Bowman to figure out. He knows the horse, he’s one of the top jockeys in the world and he’s the one who has to make the decisions.”
In fact, Moore’s presumption about the leader is the one long odds-on favourite in the race – most expect Joao Moreira will go straight to the lead on Japan’s Neorealism from gate six and dictate the tempo.
But Noriyuki Hori’s translator Adam Harrigan said the trainer had not yet determined his tactics and leading was only one option.
“I don’t think it’s set in stone. Mr Hori will take a look at the horse, the track condition on the day, any track pattern and discuss with Joao what the possible scenarios are and then make a decision before the race,” he said. “He doesn’t have to lead.”
Which would throw the proverbial cat amongst the proverbial pigeons because leaders are thin on the ground.
Secret Weapon (barrier eight) is an habitual back-marker, French runner Dicton (four) and Australian representative The United States (five) sit off the speed and that leaves only the Tony Cruz-trained runners.
“I’m happy with my draws,” said Cruz after his 2015 QE II Cup hero, Blazing Speed, was assigned barrier seven while Derby runner-up Pakistan Star’s usual poor luck with the draw failed to hold and he will launch from gate three.
Still, while Cruz-trained runners are positively ridden as a general rule, he didn’t expect to be having a say in leading this race with either horse.
“We know Blazing Speed races up towards the front but I would be hoping something else would lead and he could follow, that’s how he races best,” the trainer said.
“I’m happy to get an inside draw for a change with Pakistan Star and I think we’ll have him a bit closer from that draw than he has been, coming from wider barriers. But that might mean the middle of the field this time instead of last.”
Coincidentally, for those who figure the small field negates the draw’s importance, Neorealism has the same barrier used by Epiphaneia, for the same ownership, when he was caught wide all the way in 2014 in a field not much bigger than Sunday’s line-up.