The New Zealand Cup hopes of outstanding pacer Smolda hang in the balance after he was pulled out of the main lead-up race.
The former Harness Jewels and Derby winner will miss Monday's Flying Stakes at Ashburton, far and away the best and most important race on the road to the Cup.
And that leaves the one-time $6 third favourite for the Cup with few genuine racing opportunities before the Addington classic next month.
Smolda began his season with a moderate fourth to Terror To Love last month but was even more disappointing in Sunday's Methven Cup, in which he led and faded to fourth.
However, this time he wasn't up against Cup favourites Terror To Love and Christen Me and even more importantly he again looked uncomfortable in his gait, even on the huge grass track.
Trainers Mark Purdon and Natalie Rasmussen had blood test taken from Smolda which failed to shed any light on his lacklustre form so they have chosen to pull him out of the Flying Stakes.
With the tight, flat Kaikoura circuit on November 3 unlikely to suit him, Smolda faces going into the New Zealand Cup with only another minor Addington race or the Cup trial to bring him back to his peak.
He has drifted out to $13 with the TAB and it would not surprise to see him bypass the great race, even though he is officially still being aimed in that direction.
His absence detracts little from the Flying Stakes in which Terror To Love (9) and Christen (8) will again start from the widest draws, with Hands Christian and Adore Me alongside them, with Franco Nelson, Bit Of A Legend, Franco Ledger and Pembrook Benny adding huge depth to the field.
Which made it even more surprising that the TAB opened Terror To Love the $2 favourite for Monday and Christen Me at $3.
The meeting also sees most of New Zealand's best trotters clash in the Flying Mile, with one of the big winners in the draws being northerner Irish Whisper, from one.
R7 3.23 Ashburton Flying Stakes Pace, $50,000, c8 to oc ffa pace, stand, 2400m. - Bit Of A Legend (1), Pembrook Benny (2), Jimmy Johnstone (3), Franco Nelson (4), Franco Ledger (5), Hands Christian (6), Adore Me (7), Christen Me (8), Terror To Love (9) fr.