Phil Butcher's driving skills may be at a career high but that will be tested by a couple of tricky handicaps in the biggest races at Alexandra Park tonight.
Butcher has already surpassed his best season, having reined 48 winners, six clear of his previous best with nearly three months of the season to go.
His strike rate has never been better, he is well on the way to eclipsing his best stakes haul and he sits eighth on the national premiership, second only to brother David among North Island drivers.
But he faces two awkward assignments in the main pace and trot tonight, one he thinks he can overcome, one he is not so sure about.
Butcher partners Realmein in the trot and although he faces a 30m backmark he comes out of last Friday's Rowe Cup, having finished second to the greatly improved Blackguard's Corner the start before.
Butcher says the ace draw didn't aid Realmein last Friday but he feels like a horse ready to win.
"He is back trotting at something like his best and this is a big drop for him," said the Waikato horseman.
"He is good enough to overcome that handicap in this field and I think he has a good chance."
Realmein is aided by the small field and the spread in the handicaps, which means he should be on the back of the bunch with two laps to go so tonight is his best chance of winning in a long time.
Butcher partners Lusty Mac in the main pace, her first standing start, and one that comes on the back of two mysterious failures. She was an awesome winner on Auckland Cup night, March 11, but performed well below her best twice in the last fortnight, leaving Butcher scratching his head.
"She is way better than that and we can't work out why she failed like that," he said. "This is a good chance for her to bounce back because even though it is her first stand start I reckon she will handle it.
"But it is hard to be confident after how she has gone her last two."
Lusty Mac also comes up against one of the surprise packages of the northern season, Brydon Delight, who has gone from maiden to intermediate grade talent in just a few starts.
The unheralded seven-year-old handled his first standing start well enough last Friday, albeit with no racing luck after, to suggest he is one of the better bets tonight.
Tonight's shortened programme means the $40,000 Pick6 starts on race three and Blazing Under Fire (race four) only needs to race up to his win last Friday to win again.
The three-year-old has remained in the north to contest the Jewels and should only be better for his first couple of races right-handed.
Meanwhile, three-year-old pacing Jewels favourite Chase The Dream contests a hot race at Kilmore tonight as he gets ready to return home from the WA Derby, with stablemate Waikiki Beach off to Newcastle tomorrow night.