Co-trainer Steve Autridge knew it was the time of reckoning when he stood at the microphone at Flemington yesterday for the A$2 million Emirates Stakes press conference.
His charge Gingernuts had passed his first Australian exam in winning the autumn's Rosehill Guineas, but this was different. Three-year-olds winning against their own age at Group 1 level is one thing, Group 1 weight-for-age in the spring in Melbourne another.
This is the big time. Gingernuts is already the winner of $1.3m, but the top five in the Emirates have won more, the top two three times that. Happy Clapper has banked $3.5m and It's Somewhat $3.4m.
But Autridge is not phased. He's a Group 1 winner himself and knows what he and the horse that has introduced a large number of syndicate owners to unimagined thrills are up for just before 7pm (NZT) today.
It didn't start well. Gingernuts took three to four days to settle into his Melbourne surroundings.
"He's fine now though," Autridge told the Herald after the press conference.
"Hugh Bowman came into Flemington and galloped him on Tuesday and was happy."
That was the second issue that went astray - Bowman got himself suspended at the start of the carnival and has had to be replaced by Michael Dee, former New Zealand apprentice who has rapidly risen to the top since relocating to Melbourne.
"We don't lose too much having Michael on board," said Autridge. "He can use the whip in both hands and he's a natural left-handed whip rider, which we think will suit Gingernuts."
Dee's naturally quiet personality and schooling from master trainer Mick Price has allowed him to become a great follower of riding instructions.
That will be important because tactics will play a big part with Gingernuts starting from the awkward 12 barrier in the 15-horse field.
"We'll be looking to get cover somewhere," says Autridge. "If he can land mid-field with cover we ll be very happy."
Gingernuts won the Rosehill Guineas in Sydney in a bog. Today's footing will be at the opposite range to that, but Autridge is unconcerned. Course curator Mick Goodie applied water to Flemington yesterday, but the temperature is expected to peak today at 27C and the moisture will be quickly dried out by the time this race is run at 4.55pm local time. Both on Melbourne Cup day Tuesday and Oaks day Thursday, riders were saying the track was hard for the late races.
"He can run on anything," says Autridge. "Last Christmas he was running on tracks in the Central Districts that don't get water. At no stage has he ever jarred up." Even in Australia bookmakers are taking no chances with Gingernuts, who they have as the $5.50 second favourite behind $4.80 favourite Folkswood. The job became a little easier when in-form Tom Melbourne was withdrawn yesterday afternoon.
The $1m Darley Classic is an interesting race. Plenty of class engaged, but the value runner could be Redkirk Warrior, unbeaten in two starts down the Flemington straight 1200m. He was not sighted around the bends in the Everest in Sydney, but this is more his race. He has drawn three, which almost certainly means he will be committed to the inside rail if the field splits apart.
Unless that part of the track is significantly slower than the outside lane he should be right in the fight.
Loads of talent - Chautauqua (No1), Redzel (No2), Vega Magic (No3) and In Her Time (No12) have real talent. In Her Time, with Cup-winning jockey Corey Brown aboard, is a must for multiples. She is so honest.
Embellish (No7, R7) should be close to winning the $500,000 Al Basti Equiworld 2000 Guineas at Riccarton.
The fact stable rider Opie Bosson chose to ride him instead of Gingernuts in Melbourne should be the tip you need. Yes, he's favourite and although he is probably still finalising his ringcraft, what beats him will win. Not impossible for stablemate Te Akau Shark (No5) to fill the runner up's spot. He has done everything right in easier races and is an absolute serious racehorse in the making. Ever Loyal (No4) beat an easier field here on the first day and can step up. Jason Waddell will help him overcome an awkward barrier.
At Te Rapa today Karisto (No11, R5) is capable of making the difficult transition from maidens to winning a R65 at next appearance. There has been a bit to like about each of the runs to date.
Justacanta (No9, R8) has been flashing home in its races and although it will have a big field to get around here is in with a real chance.