Group one star Turn Me Loose is on track to defend his title in the Futurity Stakes at Caulfield.
A wet winter played havoc with Turn Me Loose's spring preparation and led to a contracted campaign of just the Schillaci Stakes and Darley Classic in Melbourne over distances short of his best.
However, Cambridge trainer Murray Baker couldn't have been more upbeat in assessing his stable star.
"He's going as well as he's ever gone," Baker said.
"He'll trial at Cambridge on January 10 and then he'll possibly go to Australia, though we're undecided yet because he's still in the Telegraph [Trentham, January 14]."
A more likely alternative for Turn Me Loose's first-up run is the Australian Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley on January 27, which provides fortnight intervals into the CF Orr Stakes (1400m) at Caulfield on February 11 and the Futurity Stakes (1400m) at the same track on February 25.
"He ran well in both those races last year and we think he'll go just as well this time around," said Baker, who trains in partnership with Andrew Forsman.
Turn Me Loose was named champion sprint and champion middle distance horse at last season's New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Awards and was a finalist for horse of the year in Victoria, having also won the Seymour Cup, Crystal Mile and Emirates Stakes in successive starts earlier in the season.
Turn Me Loose has won seven of his 17 starts for earnings of almost $1.6 million.
A winning start to 2017 for Nick Bishara will help to ease the disappointing news he received from Australia toward the end of last year.
The Ardmore Lodge trainer shared in the ownership of Elusive Storm, who won eight races from Brian Smith's Eagle Farm stable.
"She was in foal to Love Conquers All and of all things she got bitten by a snake," Bishara said. "They found her dead in the paddock; you'd hardly believe it. She was quite a valuable mare."
Elusive Storm was a half-sister to the multiple winner Elusive Tracy, who was also group two placed in the Wellington Guineas.
Bishara is now hopeful of Her Choice turning their luck around when she runs in the Coastwood Homes Thames Cup today.
"All we want is a little bit of rain," he said yesterday. "She felt the track at Taupo the other day, but she's fine now."
Before her unplaced run in the Taupo Cup, Her Choice had posted consecutive placings at Te Rapa and at Tauranga.
"She's no superstar, but this looks a winnable race for her," Bishara said. "The course will suit her, she likes to bowl along on the pace and she keeps going. It would be a nice way to start the year as this will be her last race and we'll bring her back for the autumn."
- NZ Racing Desk