When does a horse become too old to race?
Ask trainers, owners, breeders and riders when and why they consider a racehorse to be over the hill and you are bound to receive contradictory responses.
Basing any judgments purely on appearance can prove to be a disaster, simply because there are so many variables to take into account before declaring them seniors.
Surely, it must boil down to their individual footprint - physical and mental constitution, history and any health issues.
Consequently that's why Tim Symes has no qualms about putting Second Hope through the hoops in the second of the eight-race Russell Roads City of Hastings Cup meeting in Hastings on New Year's Day.
"They think he's too old to be racing than they like him to be but there are 10-year-olds who still win," Symes says of the Bay gelding before the $12,000 rating 85 race over 2100m.
Training horses since he was 21, the Hastings breeder/owner of Second Hope had initially raced him under a syndicate, including Bay interests, but a couple of years ago they pulled the plug on him.
"The locals gave up on him," he says of the gelding who has had nine victories and earned a shade more than $150,000 in stakes.
Second Hope's last victory was on February 20 in the 1850m Juken New Zealand Limited Cup Trial in Wairoa, a long neck ahead over Willy Duggan.
Three days later, in the two-part meeting , he was runner-up in the 2100m Affco NZ Ltd Wairoa Cup, a little more than a length behind Likeapins and, again, comfortably five lengths ahead of Willy Duggan.
Just as the horse's age sticks out in the field of eight predominantly 4 to 6-year-olds so does his recent form - 4-8 (BOP Cup), 12-13 (group 3 HB Gold Cup), 11-11 (Premier, Rotorua), 7-8 (Trinity Hill Hcp Sprint, HB) and 4-4 (Desert Gold Cup Hcp, HB).
However, it is imperative to note variables such as distance and turf - he's raced anywhere from 1400m to 2200m as well as tracks offering a dead 4 to heavy 10 traction. This from a gelding who has three premier wins, including two in Christchurch and one at Ellerslie.
"We won seven races for the syndicate and two since the locals left [the syndicate]," Symes says, relinquishing him as the sole owner following 50 per cent holdings.
Second Hope is out of dam Sweet Hopes who the late Edmund Symes, Tim's father, bred.
His sire is Deputy Governor (US, owner Jim Campin of Waikato) who also fathered The Veep, a 14-year-old who has delivered Symes group 2 and group 3 winners and is retired on the family paddock in Hastings.
Sweet Hopes' first foal was Molasses who won six races.
Because Second Hope's name is self-explanatory - the first derived from father "Deputy" (Second) and the other from the mother (Hopes).
"He's always been a nice horse to handle and good to look after so I've had no real problems," he says of the gelding who Kevin Myers trained for a while.
Symes is first to admit Thursday's 2100m race here may be a bridge too far for Second Hope who has a proven career record over 1300m to 1800m.
"I'm getting him ready for the Wairoa Cup. I'm going to have him much fitter this time," he says, revealing retirement will be on the agenda for Second Hope after the meeting on February 19 and 22.
Symes will be happy if Second Hope finishes in the top three on New Year's Day.
What if the horse wins here and in Wairoa?
"I'll take it with both hands and if he wins in Wairoa I'll have to think about it [retiring him]."
It won't be easy here. He sees Hastings trainer Patrick Campbell's Casino Jack (Aust) as the biggest threat.
The 6-year-old chestnut gelding, with Johnathon Parkes in the saddle, won the 2200m John Turkington Forestry Waipukurau Cup on December 7.
Then there's another Bay training pair of Guy Lowry and Grant Cullen, and their Pearls to contend with. The 6-year-old Bay brown won the 2200m Leopard Hotel Christmas Cup this month last year in Waipukurau.
Lowry and Cullen have Mint and Broadwalk in a 1400m race on Thursday with John Bary's Rosehip. They are racing Grenade over 2100m and Takemehomebabe over 1400m.
Takemehomebabe is up against Campbell's Malrose and Live Life as well as Bay's Sue Thompson and Mick Brown-trained Gold Moet.
Bary's Queenofharpz is in a 1400m race with Thompson/Brown's Decorum.
It is another Bay dust-up in the final 1200m race for maiden 3-year-olds with Bary's Lenin The Brown and Teena Rox up against Lowry/Cullen's filly, Showus.