Auckland Cup hero Sir Lincoln won't be at his peak for tonight's $20,000 Winter Cup at Alexandra Park but that shouldn't stop punters piling into his shorts odds.
While the stallion faces a 55m handicap, the composition of the field suggests he should still be too good.
Trainer Ray Green has decided to keep Sir Lincoln racing through the winter, "otherwise he will get as big as an elephant and we will never get him back".
That provides him with opportunities to race vastly inferior opposition but usually off big handicaps. And handicap racing at Alexandra Park comes down to two factors: field size and tempo. If Sir Lincoln was off a 55m handicap tonight in a 13-horse field with a couple of tough old stayers off the front he would be in trouble as they would run the first section hard, make him chase and then he would be forced to come wide around the traffic.
In those situations the backmarkers often have no chance a lap from home.
But the perfect scenario for a backmarker is what Sir Lincoln faces tonight - a small field, no horses standing even within 35m of him at the start and his two main rivals being 3-year-olds, who probably can't afford to burn over 2700m.
Sir Lincoln should attach himself to the back of the bunch inside 800m and if driver Maurice McKendry wants to get serious he could even work around to lead before the final lap because the rivals in front of him aren't tough enough to get into a scrap with a genuine open-class star.
This makes him the anchor in tonight's $100,000 guaranteed terminating Pick6.
Green says the $620,000 earner is ready enough to win.
"Sure, he isn't screwed down like he would be in the middle of summer but he shouldn't need to be," he told the Herald.
"I took him to the workouts at Alexandra Park last Saturday and he went 3:31 for 2700m, his last 800m in 56 seconds and that was by himself."
If there is to be a danger to Sir Lincoln it is Fly Like An Eagle, who won the NZ Derby this season and beat many of our best 3-year-olds two starts ago.
He has become a hard horse to follow, seeming to lack a certain mental toughness, but if the cards fall his way he is good enough to pace 3:25 for the 2700m stand, which would set Sir Lincoln a huge task.
Tonight's Pick6 contains some interesting winter fare, with the main trot bringing together a classy bunch headed by Irish Whisper, Murcielargo, Cyclone U Bolt and Cool Cobber. Irish Whisper is having his last start in New Zealand before heading to Canada, but his manners are the worry in a race containing several future open-class trotters.
The second leg sees Sir Lincoln's stablemate Besotted coming off a solid Jewels fifth up against another classy 3-year-old, Bettors Creek, who was third in that same record-breaking mile won by Smolda. Green says Besotted could be just short of his best after missing a workout last week so Bettors Creek gets the nod.
The richest race of the night is one of the great enigmas on the harness racing calendar - the Sales Series pace restricted to horses bred to Northern Hemisphere time.
Two years ago it produced a champion in Carabella; this season most of its six starters have barely qualified.
Maybe Baby won the poor prelude last Friday so deserves to be top pick but Karaka Jack and Classy Figure showed enough to suggest they could turn the tables.
Meanwhile, Mark Purdon-trained pacers Didjamakem Bolt, Best Deal Yet and Minnie Moose start their Queensland campaigns on the Gold Coast tonight.
CUP HERO BACK
- Sir Lincoln faces a 55m handicap at Alexandra Park tonight.
- But the composition of the field should suit the Auckland Cup winner.
- The meeting hosts a $100,000 terminating Pick6.