California Spangle will not only have to defy over three decades of history but also what jockey Zac Purton has described as a “horrible draw” if he is to lead all the way and win Sunday’s BMW Hong Kong Derby (2,000m).

The last horse to lead throughout en route to Derby success was William’s Coach in 1989 and it hasn’t been done from the tricky 2,000m start at Sha Tin since the race was extended to 10 furlongs in 2000, a stat pointed out by veteran Hong Kong racing analyst Alan Aitken following Thursday’s barrier draw.

To add to the task, California Spangle has been lumped with gate 10 but Purton and the four-year-old’s trainer Tony Cruz are not known for shirking a challenge and the legendary handler was emphatic when asked how he expects things to unfold.

“He’s got that early speed and I think he’s sure to go to the front and lead the race again,” Cruz said.

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“There’s no other horses that have got the speed to take him on. I think he’ll do the same thing as he’s been doing all this time – go to the front, lead the race and try and dictate it.”

California Spangle has led in all eight of his career starts – six of them wins – and dictated from the front to win last month’s Classic Cup as the $1.9 favourite.

From the 1,800m start, however, Purton had plenty of time down the back straight to work his way to the lead, while from the Sha Tin 2,000m – which gives runners less than 200m to assume a position before cornering – he will have to be at his sharpest.

“It’s a completely different race for us this time. In the 1,800m I knew that he had that natural gate speed to be able to lead so I was never in any hurry out of the gate to get a position,” the jockey said.

“From the 2,000m start I’ve really got to be aggressive and press him out of the gate to clear the runners on my inside and I expect a couple of those runners to try and kick up and make it hard for me. When you’re on a horse that’s suspect at the distance, that could bring us undone.

“If I fire him out of the gate from 10 at this start to get across maybe it gives him the signal that it’s time to go and he might see that corner and think he’s in a 1,200m race.

“It could go horribly bad for us, it’s a horrible draw for us but it is what it is. If he can pull it off it’s going to be a monumental performance.”

Romantic Warrior barely went around a runner when winning the Classic Mile from barrier one but it all came crashing down as the second favourite in the Classic Cup, with the galloper finding himself four wide after travelling outside the leaders early from gate 13 before Karis Teetan tried to find cover in midfield.

Romantic Warrior has split the difference for Sunday and Teetan is hopeful he can give his mount every chance from gate eight.

“I am confident he will get the trip. Of course last time he did cover a lot of ground, he was the widest horse for the whole race and he still finished off nicely,” Teetan said.

“This time we are in the middle of the track, so if we can get a good jump and get him in a decent position I think he should run the distance no problem and I think he will show us his nice turn of foot this time.”

Among the other leading hopes, The Irishman has also drawn wide in 13, Turin Redsun and Ima Single Man are in six and seven, respectively, and Senor Toba has gate three – which has been the most successful Derby barrier since the switch to 2,000m with four winners.

Senor Toba trials ahead of the Hong Kong Derby. Photo: Kenneth Chan

“We’ll always take the stats if they’re in our favour and if they’re not in our favour we’ll try to change them,” trainer Caspar Fownes said.

“The horse is going to have the blinkers on for the first time, we took him to the gates this morning, he’s starting to know how to jump better and know what we want of him.

“We want to be able to get him in some sort of position to take advantage of [the gate] and I think we’re going to be able to do that on Sunday.”