The first steps on the road to the New Zealand Cup can be fraught with danger for punters.
How fit the open class pacers are for their comeback races, the varying attitudes of their trainers and drivers and the general reluctance to have a hard run fresh up can make races like tonight's Maurice Holmes Vase at Addington hardly worth the risk.
But a quick conversation with champion driver Dexter Dunn ends those concerns about Locharburn, the hot favourite for the season's open class pipe opener.
The Easter Cup winner is amazingly short considering he takes on NZ Free-For-All winner Tiger Tara and a NZ Cup runner up Franco Nelson, with the TAB opening him at $1.25.
The reason is two-fold: Locharburn has the X-factor of a genuine open class star but more importantly he easily beat those two key rivals at the trials last week.
That was enough to have Dunn suggesting the big 6-year-old win making a winning comeback tonight.
"He felt great last week, the best he has ever felt at the trials," said Dunn. "So there will be no excuses for him this week and I will be happy to drive him confidently.
"He didn't have that long a spell last season and he is ready."
Early season open class races are sometimes tame affairs and if Dunn goes searching for the lead early it it hard to imagine too many of his rivals getting into a war with him.
Tiger Tara looked in need of his run when finishing on late into third behind Locharburn last week but hasn't raced since the Auckland Cup on December 31, so being a stallion with a moderate fresh-up record you would think he is a couple of races away.
While Franco Nelson won a workout well two weeks ago, he was below his best in the Locharburn trial last week and would need to improve so it is hard to see him beating the favourite.
In fact, if you averaged out the trials/workouts in the last fortnight, the best place value tonight is Cullect A Guinness, who has had two solid hitouts so will be fit and steps well so he should be handy.
Tonight's Addington meeting sees the first of the open class trotters step out down south for the season but Dunn doesn't have the same confidence about multiple group one winner Sheemon as he does Locharburn,
"The reports are he is trotting well but he has only had one workout so it will be hard to win against some horses who have had recent racing."
They include the vastly improved Amaretto Sun, who was brilliant last start, while topliner Sunny Ruby and the exciting Bordeaux also return.
At Alexandra Park, the main trot looks a one-horse affair with the return to a mobile 1700m suggesting One Over Da Moon is a good thing (R6) but the main pace, also over the sprint trip, looks trickier.
No Doctor Needed is the best horse in the race and last time he started over 1700m he beat Hughie Green.
He looked fit and ready at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday when beating a race rival tonight in Aliante so if he connections are willing to use his gate speed early he might blast to the lead and put the race beyond doubt.
But if they, like so many camps early in the season, opt not to go forward early then luck and sectional times come into play.
As a camp who tend to have their horses ready fresh, No Doctor Needed should be ready to do the job.
Backing a winner
• Best: Locharburn (Addington R7): Trial win, class and driver confidence suggest a winning return.
• Trot star: One Over Da Moon (Alex Park, R6): Fit and too sharp for this bunch.
• NZ Cup bound: No Doctor Needed (Alex Park, R7): Has vastly superior form to rivals, attitude at the start crucial.