December Draw held his place as Caulfield Cup favourite and moved to equal favouritism for the Melbourne Cup with a hard-fought win in the group one Turnbull Stakes at Flemington yesterday.
The European import has had six starts for trainer Mark Kavanagh for five wins, four of them on his home track of Flemington, and a second at Moonee Valley.
The 6-year-old gelding stepped up to group one level for the first time in the Turnbull and proved equal to the task in the 2000m set weights plus penalties feature.
Ridden by Michael Rodd, the $2.15 favourite settled off race leader Glass Harmonium ($8) and when Extra Zero went around him at the 1000m he enjoyed a nice trail.
December Draw wore down Glass Harmonium to score by a short-head with Playing God ($16) working home well to be two lengths away third.
While December Draw has not raced beyond 2000m going into the 2400m Caulfield Cup, Kavanagh said he gave every indication he would run it out strongly.
"Off a fast clip today he was a sitting shot really I thought, they went pretty strong but he held on good, he had the weight advantage," Kavanagh said yesterday. "That one will bring him right on. It was a pretty tough run.
"He's only just starting to come right now so it's just keeping him right, that's what we have got to do.
Owners Richard Pegum and Gary Towzell were on hand to celebrate the victory, which followed Pegum's win with the Chris Waller-trained My Kingdom Of Fife in the Craven Plate at Randwick on Saturday.
December Draw is the $3 Caulfield Cup favourite with TAB Sportsbet and looks set to start the shortest price in the race since New Zealand galloper Suleiman ran third at $2.50 in 1975.
He firmed to $9 equal favourite with Lion Tamer for the Melbourne Cup.
"Kav has been saying I've been getting to the front too soon on him so I came into the straight and I sat up on him, thinking I had them really well covered because when you give him a squeeze he gives you four or five lengths really quickly," Rodd said.
"But when I came around the turn he just completely switched off and I really had to wake him up, he knew he was going to be in for a fight.
"But it was like he lost his momentum and I had to get him going again."
Rodd said the gelding would appreciate the pace a bigger field would generate in the Caulfield Cup and he would be more conservative as long as he could ride him.
Rodd is banking on Americain coming out of the Caulfield Cup, forcing weights to be raised to within his range.
The Lloyd Williams team will concentrate on the Melbourne Cup with imported stayer Mourayan, winner of the Bart Cummings yesterday.
Mourayan missed Saturday's Metropolitan at Randwick in favour of the 2500m listed race and Williams' son and part-owner Nick Williams said he would also bypass the Caulfield Cup.
Williams was also full of praise for Hugh Bowman's ride, describing the Sydney rider as the best jockey in Australia after he gave the 6-year-old the run of the race from barrier one.
Williams was also effusive in his praise for Mourayan, who broke through for his first win since arriving in Australia although he was runner-up at group one level in the 2010 Metropolitan and this year's BMW.
"This horse has seriously come on," said Williams, who indicated the entire would miss the Caulfield Cup.
"I think we will probably just run him in the Melbourne Cup. He might run in the Moonee Valley Cup on the way there."
Backed from $9 to $6.50, Mourayan scored by two lengths from Niwot ($3.80 fav) with Showcause ($31) three-quarters of a length away third.
Bowman said it helped that he had already had a couple of race rides on Mourayan, who came to Australia as the winner of two races as a 2-year-old in Ireland, both at Leopardstown, including the Listed Eyrefield Stakes (1800m).
Showcause held on gamely after being handy all the way and another Kiwi, My Scotsgrey, made ground from well back to finish just in behind the placegetters. However, last season's Caulfield Cup runnerup Harris Tweed was disappointing in a race he won last year.
He enjoyed a good run in the first half dozen all the way but never threatened in the home straight and dropped out to finish well back. He would have to make dramatic improvement to be a threat at Caulfield on November 15.
Williams was also to the fore earlier in the day with 3-year-old Collar. Having only his third race start, the son of O'Reilly and 1999 Caulfield Cup placegetter Laebeel was dominant as he raced away to a 1-length-win in the listed Westfield Doncaster Stakes (1400m).
Nick Hall rode the lightly raced gelding, who made it look like a track gallop as he sat second, a length outside the leader First Course, before drawing clear of that horse to win as he liked.
Country-trained Hell's Kitchen finished strongly on the outside from last to finish third.
Nick Williams, who part-owns Collar with his father, said the gelding was still in the Caulfield Guineas but was unlikely to run.
"I will leave that to Dad but I thought at this point, given he's had three starts, that probably it might be a bit much for him but he will decide that during the week," Williamssaid.
"He is a big, raw sort of horse and has a great staying future ahead of him."