An interrupted build-up to the Breeders Crown has thrown superstar Kiwi three-year-old Waikiki Beach into one of the toughest challenges of his career.
The winner of 20 of his 21 starts faces not only a second row draw but multiple group one winner Menin Gate (front line) and fellow New Zealand star Franco Cristiano in a 1720m race at Melton on Saturday night.
Waikiki Beach, who races with the Our prefix in Australia, was originally entered for a three-year-old race at Melton last Friday which didn't get off the ground so trainer Mark Purdon has been forced into taking on older horses this Saturday.
"He needs the run to be ready for the Breeders Crown semifinal the week after," he said.
The change of plan and configuration of Saturday's field will put Waikiki Beach under huge pressure as Menin Gate, who won last season's Breeders Crown three-year-old, looks set to lead and will take some catching over the sprint trip.
The race will also feature the Australian debut of Franco Cristiano, who has been super impressive in three wins this campaign, including beating serious intermediate-grade older horses at Addington last start.
If he was to come out and win after starting from alongside Waikiki Beach on the second line, he would be a huge mover in the markets for the Breeders Crown final on August 28. Their clash is at 10.30pm (NZ time) on Saturday night.
The Kiwi assault on the rich month of age group racing started on a high when Wilma's Mate led home a New Zealand trifecta in the A$75,000 Victoria Trotting Derby on Sunday. She had to survive a protest for veering into the passing lane in the home straight but was too good for High Gait, with the Tony Herlihy-trained Temporale third.
That suggests the Kiwis hold a huge hand in that division of the Breeders Crown while two-year-old pacers Pacing Major and Partyon are already favourites for their finals.
But the two-year-old trot ranks see the Kiwis with a serious challenger after Illawong Byron downed Harness Jewels winner Custodian in the Redwood Trot on Sunday.