Foxton horseman Chris Rauhihi has a chance to bring the $300,000 NZ Campus of Innovation and Sport Wellington Cup back home again tomorrow.
His home town will forever be synonymous with the Wellington Cup, thanks to the exploits of Castletown winning the big race three times, in 1991, 1992 and 1994, for trainer Paddy Busuttin.
Rauhihi, 35, was just a toddler at the time, but growing up he'd always known who Castletown was. There was a huge painting of the horse on Foxton's main street.
So it was satisfying for Rauhihi to have the horse in the Wellington Cup field on Saturday, and in with a chance. He had set He No Opilio for the race six months ago.
"It's the pinnacle of staying races, but a very hard race to win, and Trentham has been a graveyard for many a horse over the years. I'd be happy if he runs in the top five," he said.
Rauhihi, who has his stables based in Levin, was putting the finishing touches to his jet-black gelding this week, including early-morning trips to Hokio Beach on which he thrived.
He had sidestepped the training track this week for the waves and sands of the beach in an effort to train the mind as much as the body.
"He loves it out the beach. Whatever happens tomorrow, he's happy and I'm happy as with him, and can't get him much fitter than he is," he said.
"He's done the kilometres."
Rauhihi was confident his horse would cope with the 3200m of Wellington Cup - long recognised as a true test of stamina. He No Opilio had an older brother called Mr Cool Boy who won seven races, including one over 3200m at Trentham.
Also in his favour in the stamina stakes was the fact his sire Zed left last year's Melbourne Cup winner Verry Elleegant, while his maternal sireline included Pentire, Starjo and Moss Trooper.
"It's a good family. His granddam Innisvale was a good race mare and a black-type performer over ground too," he said.
Rauhihi himself was from a long line of gifted horsemen. He was a former top apprentice jockey 20 years ago before injuries from a raceday fall at Te Rapa ended his career.
He managed only one full season of riding - in 2001, as a 15-year-old no less. And with 37 wins in that debut season, racegoers can only wonder what might have been.
Rauhihi rode in the Wellington Cup that year, finishing midfield on a horse called Trafalgar Flyer, and so was acutely aware of just how hard the race is to win.
He had engaged jockey-of-the-moment Sam Weatherley for Saturday, fresh from winning the $1million Karaka Million three-year-old race on Pin Me Up, the Auckland Guineas on Dark Destroyer, and the Rich Hill Mile on Mali Ston.
And while the barrier draw of 18 would ordinarily be a hindrance, it could turn out to be a blessing as jockeys were avoiding the rail at Trentham last week in favour of centre track.
The weather gods were also obliging with fine weather forecast for Trentham.
"He needs a good track," he said.
Meanwhile, favouritism for the 2022 Wellington Cup was blown wide open with the news midweek that last year's winner and topweight Waisake had been withdrawn due to injury.
He No Opilio opened at a quote of $61 with the TAB, but as of Wednesday had shortened considerably to $26. The favourite was now Wanganui mare Uareastar at $4.50.
Local hopes don't end there either, with Levin trainer Mark Goodwin represented by Skyphyta, who was also at 26-to-one.