A timely return to form is fuelling hopes that consistent galloper Nicastro can post his first feature win in the Winter Championship Final at Flemington today.
A dual placegetter in seven stakes-race attempts, Nicastro has emerged as one of the top chances in the A$200,000 ($259,000) listed race over 1600m with a last-start win in the fifth heat of the series at Warrnambool.
Trainer Jarrod McLean had hoped the Testa Rossa 4-year-old would go into the series as the top qualifier but he lost that chance when last Sunday's seventh heat at Hamilton was abandoned because of the wet track.
The top points scorer in the series gets a A$50,000 bonus if it can win the Winter Championship Final.
Tough Future and Dr Nipandtuck, both on 18 points, top the list and are in the running for the cash. Nicastro has 11 points and is the sixth-top qualifier.
"We saw Hamilton as a chance to get [another 10] points and win another A$40,000 race but it didn't work out," McLean said on Thursday.
"Hamilton would have been a good race for him but instead he had a good gallop last Tuesday and we are happy with him."
Nicastro has promised a lot and McLean remains hopeful he can win a decent race. "He's a talented horse and he deserves to win a good race," McLean said.
"He is stakes-placed but not a stakeswinner and this is his chance."
Nicastro is at $11 with TAB Sportsbet in a market which is yet to generate much interest.
Third emergency Mr Make Believe is an easing favourite from $2.80 to $3.10 and jockey Luke Nolen is down to ride him and second favourite Rocky Times ($6.50).
Provincial Plate winner Mr Griswold has eased from $5.50 to $7 while first emergency Good Value has drifted from $6.50 to $7.
McLean said it was hard to line up the form but Nicastro, from barrier four, was as good a chance as any in the capacity field of 16 and four emergencies.
"From a nice draw he looks to be right in the mix," McLean said.
An unplaced Caulfield Guineas runner as a 3-year-old, Nicastro was third to Carrara in the listed McKenzie Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley in August 2009 and a year later was beaten by less than a length when third to Jeuneyman in the listed 65th Anniversary of The End of World War II Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield.
McLean said Nicastro had been specifically aimed at the Winter Championship and would have a pre-spring break after today's assignment.
"Last time in, Craig Williams rode him and thought he would be an ideal Seymour Cup horse and maybe even a chance at the Crystal Mile at Moonee Valley on Cox Plate Day."
Nikita Beriman has formed a good association with Nicastro in recent times and will ride him again today.