Trainer Cran Dalgety has one nagging doubt as his wonder pacer Christen Me prepares for his return at Addington tonight.
And it is not whether he can beat dual New Zealand Cup winner nor whether Christen Me will handle just his second standing start.
What bothers Dalgety the most is the five-year-old’s lack of a lead-up race to tonight’s $25,000 Avon City Ford Cup.
“If he had had a race last week and was screwed down a bit more then I’d be very confident, even against these big guns,” said Dalgety.
“But as we keep seeing time and time again in open class even the best horses are vulnerable fresh.
“He is obviously good enough to win but I am not sure he is forward enough to overcome anything going wrong.”
While Christen Me is listed as having only had two officials trials this campaign he worked privately at near race-speed after the Addington trials on Monday, pacing 2600m in 3:17, his last 800m in 56 seconds.
Dalgety isn’t concerned about is the starting start, even though Christen Me is a relative novice behind the tapes.
“He had plenty of practice at home and if he steps as good as he has been then that won’t be a problem.” Even if everything does go Christen Me’s way there is the issue of beating Terror To Love, who won their only clash back in February, albeit when favoured by the better run.
As great as he is Terror To Love has been given two very quiet trials in the last month and being a six-year-old stallion should benefit even more from tonight’s race than Christen Me.
“He is the top gun at the moment and we have to catch him,” said Dalgety.
“But maybe their preparation is are all about winning the New Zealand Cup for the third time and he could be in the same boat as us fitness-wise, maybe even a bit softer.”
The start will be crucial as if either of the big two got away quickly enough to press on to the lead they would be supremely hard to catch, especially as early season racing can be pedestrian.
While any opposition containing a Hunter Cup winner, two Ballarat Cup winners, Jewels and Derby winners as well as the in-form Franco Ledger is not to be under-estimated, it would still surprise if the winner came from outside the two superstars, the TAB opening them Christen Me at $2 and Terror To Love at $2.50, with money quickly moving the former into $1.80.
While he has never beaten the best, Franco Ledger peeled off a sub-54 second 800m winning the Hannon at Oamaru last start and has both standing start manners and a huge fitness each so make some appeal, while Four Starzzz Flash is the place value for similar reasons.
Even this early in the season tonight’s race becomes an interesting one for the reputation of Mah Sish, who was wonderful at the highest level last term.
But he may need to raise his game to stay relevant, especially as he performs best when respected and therefore able to control races.
Later in the night Dalgety expects unbeaten Locharburn to stay that way even though he faces his first standing start but he has no such confidence with Regulus in the Sires’ Stakes heat.
“He is working well but has drawn outside Mark Purdon’s pair (Isaiah and Someardensomewhere) so they have a huge edge on us.”
By Michael Guerin (Courtesy of Harness Racing New Zealand)