THE "perfect" barrier draw has set the stage for Horsham-hope Surprise Baby to upset the world at the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday.
The Baby drew barrier seven on Saturday night, a near-perfect result for Horsham-based trainer Paul Preusker.
Surprise Baby finished fifth at last year's Cup, just a length behind winner Vow and Declare, after starting from an unfavourable barrier 20.
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"It's a tough ask in (a draw of) 24, but I said all along, if we could draw between seven to ten then that leaves our options really open," Preusker said.
"So it's just about the perfect gate, I would have thought. We're really happy with it."
Just three days out from the race that stops the nation, Preusker told the Mail-Times that nerves had well and truly settled in.
He said getting Surprise Baby to the gates safe and sound on Tuesday was now his sole focus.
"You're always nervous," Preusker said. "You don't need anything to go wrong, and the closer you get, the higher the stakes are.
"But he's in really good shape, and there's no more that can be done. It's just a matter of keeping him wrapped up and safe."
It has been a curious 12 months for Preusker and Surprise Baby since last year's Cup.
A jockey change - from youngster Jordy Childs to 2019 Melbourne Cup winner Craig Williams - was one of many difficult decisions made by Preusker and owner John Fiteni.
Surprise Baby has also featured in just two competitive races since the Cup; finishing second in the group 2 Feehan Stakes and a luckless ninth in the group 1 Turnbull in October.
Some have questioned how lightly-raced Surprise Baby will be heading into Tuesday, but Preusker said he was confident in his horse's unusual preparation.
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He said in a game of inches, the validity of his decisions will be decided on Tuesday.
"It has always been a long term plan to get it right for the Cup, and everything has been ticked off," Preusker said.
"(The preparation has) all gone smoothly - all you do now is live or die by your own sword.
"I know why I've made the decisions to do it a certain way.
"So we'll just have to wait and see whether I die or don't die on Tuesday, you know?"
The Great Western CFA will also be cheering on Surprise Baby, as they stand to win $50,000 as part of the Melbourne Cup Tour National Sweep.
Horsham's Wimmera Base Hospital is also in contention as part of the sweep with Russian Camelot.
Surprise Baby hung just below the $10 mark with most bookies on Sunday when the Wimmera Mail-Times went to print.
Win or lose, it's another feather in the cap for the Preusker stable which has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
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Another Preusker horse Admire Robson narrowly missed out on qualifying for the Cup at Derby Day on Saturday.
With more national recognition comes more owners seeking out Preusker to train their thoroughbreds, and no matter the result on Tuesday, Preusker appears to have a bright future ahead.
"We're in a good spot, for sure," Preusker said.
"Either way, it will be a big weight lifted off the shoulders on Tuesday."
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