Mah Sish is starting to look the perfect pacer to continue one of harness racing's greatest group one dominations.
The New Zealand-trained pacer produced the performance of his life to down Sushi Sushi in the A$150,000 ($187,000) Ballarat Cup on Friday night, the highlight of a huge night of success for Kiwi horses.
The win has seen him shorten dramatically in the market for this Saturday's A$400,000 Hunter Cup, where he will try and extend an extraordinary record for trainer Tim Butt and his driver, brother Anthony.
The brothers have combined to win three of the past four Hunter Cups, with Choise Achiever last year, Stunin Cullen in 2011 and Mr Feelgood in 2009.
They also won it with Mister DG in 2004 so will be shooting for their fifth win in 10 years.
That in itself is one of the greatest big-race dominations in Australasian racing yet Anthony's Hunter Cup record is even more amazing as he also drove Blossom Lady to win the race twice, so is aiming for his seventh Cup on Saturday.
And he is adamant he has the right horse.
"You need a horse with good manners and stamina for the Hunter and he has both of those.
"Getting away well and putting horses between yourself and the backmarkers, like Caribbean Blaster this year, is always crucial.
"And, just as importantly, this horse is improving at the right time.
"He was good early in the season and I thought he went great when fourth in the New Zealand Cup but he is better now."
Mah Sish had already been in fine form in Australia, running second in the Victoria and Bendigo Cups, but his failure to win a major race before Friday will be a huge help heading into the Hunter because Harness Racing Victoria insiders confirmed to the Herald that Mah Sish will not get the customary 10m re-handicap for Saturday's race which usually accompanies a Ballarat Cup win.
While Mah Sish was outstanding coming three wide without cover to wear down Sushi Sushi, fellow Kiwi pacer Auckland Reactor was dreadful. He followed Mah Sish throughout but stopped badly from the 400m and finished 15 lengths from the winner.
"I simply can't explain that. He felt terrible," said trainer-driver Mark Purdon.
Purdon had better results earlier in the night when Highview Tommy led throughout to win the Pure Steel, a standing-start, lead-up race to the Hunter Cup. And Dr Hook made a winning debut from the Purdon stable when he showed real courage to win the second heat of the Australasian Trotting Champs after being forced to sit parked throughout.
He will now vie for favouritism with Mister Zion for Saturday's A$50,000 final.
Purdon's winning run continued with Smolda at Melton on Saturday night where he easily put paid to a moderate field.
The exceptional 4-year-old didn't look screwed down for the race and should gain great improvement as he heads toward the Chariots Of Fire in Sydney on March 3.
The winning run for the New Zealand horses ended in the Victoria Derby heats, with two of the five Kiwis missing a spot in next Saturday's classic.
Cyamach and Three Pints missed out but Bit Of A Legend, Ohoka Punter and Arden Rooney all made the final after filling the placings behind newcomer Macha in the last Derby heat.
All three Derby heat winners were driven by Chris Alford, who will pilot Guaranteed in the final.
The barrier draw for all three group ones occurs tomorrow.
* Brothers Tim and Anthony Butt have an extraordinary Hunter Cup record.
* They have won the Grand Circuit event three of the last four years.
* Mah Sish rocketed into reckoning for the Hunter by winning the Ballarat Cup.
* He has crucially not been re-handicapped for that victory.