An aborted VRC Derby campaign may have a silver cloud after all for Tauranga trainer David Miller at Ellerslie tomorrow.
The former jumps jockey saddles Mustang in the listed Mad Butcher Championship Stakes Prelude, his first serious step toward a start in the Telecom New Zealand Derby on the course in March.
Miller took the One Cool Cat gelding to Melbourne in October in an 11th hour bid to qualify for the Flemington equivalent won by Cambridge galloper Sangster.
But Miller's risky plan came unstuck when Mustang could only finish ninth in the Geelong Classic, his one and only shot at the prizemoney needed to make the VRC Derby field.
"Maybe it was just the jockey [Hugh Bowman] not knowing the horse," said Miller.
"He's a dead-set stayer who keeps switching off if you let him. He ran on real good in the straight but by that stage it was too late."
Although disappointed at the time in missing a shot at the $1.1 million winner's cheque, Miller is philosophical now about the lost opportunity.
Sometimes gambles come off, he reasons, as they did when he took one-race winner Corregidor to Sydney to run third in the 1993 group one Rosehill Guineas.
Other times they don't.
"The biggest crime would have been in not having a go at all," said Miller.
Miller is now looking forward to unleashing Mustang's Derby credentials on this side of the Tasman tomorrow.
Unlike many of his Ellerslie rivals who are trying the staying caper for the first time, Miller knows the groundwork is already done with Mustang.
He tuned up with a late-closing fourth over 1500m at Ellerslie on November 26, a trip Miller said was always going to be too short.
"I was going to trial him the other day but the race at Ellerslie was pretty much like a trial.
"The 1500m was too short but he needed the run. Things now seem pretty right for Sunday.
"I wouldn't say there is oodles of confidence - it's not a big field but there is a lot of talent in it - but I'd envisage he'd run really well."
The Championship Stakes Prelude is the second leg of the $20,000 bonus Quaddie tomorrow.
Miller also rates Mustang's stablemate, lightly tried sprinter Harrys Pal, a winning chance in the first leg, the Stella Artois 1200.
The late-blooming five-year-old has plenty of positives against the R75 rivals.
He gets a 3kg claim from apprentice Shoehi Shirahama, bringing his weight down to just 56kg, and will relish the class drop from the open company he took on last time out at Pukekohe.
He's also gone some of his best races at Ellerslie (4-2-1) without any help from barrier draws.
Two starts back he jumped from 14 in a 14-horse line-up yet still finished less than two lengths from Concorde winner Durham Town in fourth place.
Harrys Pal has drawn three tomorrow and Miller can see him taking a trail just in behind the speed.
"This time he should be able to get a lot easier run. He'll give a real good account of himself and should be hard to beat."
Master Zenno, who was relegated from first at Pukekohe, looks an anchor shot in leg three, the More FM Mile.
This field isn't any stronger than the one he mastered the other day.
You may need to go a little wider in leg four, the R85 1400m which boasts a small but even line-up.
Star Bound, Goldminer and Shandream will be the most popular choices but the chances don't end there.