The hard work of qualifying may be over but Friday is still D-Day for the 108 horses who have made the Harness Jewels.
The top 12 pacers and trotters in nine divisions will converge on Cambridge on Saturday week to race for $1.2 million, making it second only to Karaka Million night as the richest race meeting in New Zealand.
But while it has taken the first 10 months of the season to earn the stakes to qualify for their shot at the Jewels, the reality is for at least half of those horses their chances will end with Friday's barrier draw.
Few harness racing tracks in the country have results as influenced by the draws as Cambridge.
Occasionally, statistics to discredit that theory are presented but they never take into account that Cambridge runs a high number of races with enormous variance in class, often with preferential draws that see the best horses draw wide or the second line.
So, at a normal meeting horses can win from bad draws at Cambridge, but doing so against high-class opponents pacing 1:55 miles is a totally different matter.
Previous Cambridge runnings of the Jewels have seen dominant horses able to overcome wide or second-line draws to win but most of the winners on June 2 will come from the first four with a lap to go.
Those not among the favourites pre-draw may snare a shot at winning if they draw to lead or trail but by the time the draws are known around 1pm on Friday most bookies and punters will only be interested in three of four horses per race.
The draws start at noon on Friday and will be streamed live on the HRNZ website (www.hrnz. co.nz).
One of the few Jewels contenders who would start favourite regardless of where she draws is Bettor Cover Lover in the 4-year-old mare's division.
But first she has to get through a tough assignment in the A$100,000 Queen of the Pacific in Melbourne on Friday night.
An impressive winner at Cambridge last Friday, she faces a 10m handicap and some high-class Australian rivals in the group one event, after which she flies home Saturday morning.
Bettor Cover Lover ($1.25) and Thanesan ($1.80) are the only pre-draw Jewels favourite at odds-on after star trotting filly Escapee drifted from $1.50 upon opening to $2.
That has been because of the recent winning form of her only two realistic dangers: Stent, backed in from $6.50 to $2.60 and Lotalov, from $5 to $4.
That trio all race at Alexandra Park on Friday night as too do many of the Jewels favourites, including 3-year-old division favourite Smolda.
Friday's meeting, which could usually have struggled for numbers because of the smaller stakes, has been dramatically boosted by horses needing a run before the Jewels eight days later and has now emerged as one of the surprise highlights of the winter racing season.
Several other high-profile Jewels candidates will contest workouts at Cambridge on Sunday, including Woodlands Derby winner Ideal Scott.By Michael Guerin Email Michael