Don't let the usual fresh-up harness hoodoo put you off Hughie Green in the $20,000 Spring Cup at Alexandra Park tonight.
While it seems the majority of our pacing elite get beaten in the first start of their campaigns these days tonight's sprint looks the big fella's to lose.
Already this season we have seen the absolute best pacers return, be driven cold and finish on nicely in the best races, none of which pays the punter.
It is often the nature of open class races early in the season, with those at the front of the field having quinellaed all three open class races so far this season.
Which could make you think twice about backing Hughie Green off a 10m handicap over 2200m tonight, especially as the pacing giant hasn't raced since April and hasn't won since December.
His astute and conservative trainer Brian Hughes doesn't do much to boost punter confidence, admitting he wouldn't be surprised if Hughie was to be beaten, even though he is happy with his condition.
For all of that, picking something to beat the favourite is hard to do with any confidence.
Hughie Green is, after all, a genuine open class force, good enough to be pipped on the post by Have Faith In Me in last season's Auckland Cup, beating home the likes of Smolda, Tiger Tara and Ohoka Punter.
That only confirmed the ability he showed right from his 3-year-old days and he has regularly reeled off sensational sectionals at The Park.
He did something similar at the Pukekohe workouts last Saturday, continuing a strong spring build up with an easy win in 55.7 seconds for his final 800m, the last 400m in a sizzling 26.
He was reined up by driver Maurice McKendry, insuring his lungs were opened up and his mind put on the job for tonight's sprint. While the 10m handicap is hardly ideal, he has seven rivals and three of those off the front have never raced in open class, the exception being Beyond The Silence, who won this race two years ago but has battled since.
Of his rivals joining Hughie Green on the 10m, Start Dreaming was a brilliant last-start winner, her 53.1 second last 800m the fastest officially clocked at Alexandra Park.
This is her first serious open class contest and while she may measure up she has yet to prove she can beat an Auckland Cup placegetter. So you would want $5 for her compared with a base line dividend of $2 for Hughie Green to make her value.
Rocker Band is a Jewels winner but new to open class, so that leaves the consistent No Doctor Needed as the only other threat and he has beaten Hughie Green and his glamour stablemate The Orange Agent before.
He might be the better upset option at a price approaching $9-$10, but in reality, unless Hughie Green misses away - and his standing start manners are usually good - he should defy the first-up defeat trend.
Also returning tonight is handy intermediate grade trotter Blackguard's Corner, good enough to finish fifth to Monbet in the Rowe Cup.
He is now trained by Tony Herlihy and gets a healthy 30m start over key rivals Realmein, who looks back to his best, and the enigmatic Cool Cobber.
• Best bet: Stunin Banner (R10, No 6): Almost won much stronger race last week. Repeat performance too good here.
• Forgive: Billy Badger (R4, No 1): No luck in two starts this campaign, gets chance to lead here and hard to catch.
• Luckless: Laredo Torpedo (R3, No 2): Huge recovery after mid-race gallop last start. Won't be a maiden for long.