Queensland trainer Liam Birchley watched his Karaka Million filly O'Reilly Cyrus do a piece of solo work at Ellerslie on Thursday morning and smiled. That wasn't after looking at a stopwatch as he did a few days before Hardline won last year's race.
This time a stopwatch wasn't needed. O'Reilly Cyrus did not get out of three-quarter pace working 800m.
"I could have done that much at home," Birchley joked, but the New Zealand-bred filly was at Ellerslie for only one reason - to take in for the first time the enormous vista that is the Ellerslie grandstands.
That sight has spooked any number of first-time 2-year-olds during an Ellerslie race and Birchley is too meticulous to take a risk of that happening late in New Zealand's richest thoroughbred race at Ellerslie tomorrow evening.
Not that O'Reilly Cyrus looked as though she'd shy at anything - you could probably walk her through the South Auckland fun maze Spookers without her breaking a sweat.
Bombproof is an over-used word to describe thoroughbreds - the horse that couldn't be frightened has yet to be born - but O'Reilly Cyrus would come close.
In preceding days the filly had been floated from Brisbane to Sydney, flown to Auckland, had two float trips and she stood quietly, but attentively, in the tie-up stalls at Ellerslie at 6.15am on Thursday as if she'd been born there.
"She's been in four different boxes in the last 48 hours and she just takes it in her stride," said Birchley.
That will be crucial in front of what is certain to be a large, noisy crowd at Ellerslie tomorrow. Birchley purchased O'Reilly Cyrus for $100,000 at Karaka 12 months ago. Her granddam was Tasman Dancer, a brilliant, highly talented juvenile in the mid-1980s who travelled from New Zealand to run in the Golden Slipper in her 2-year-old year.
"Tasman Dancer was racing when I was here working and she was one of the reasons I was attracted to this filly. The bloke that bought this filly wanted to get into breeding. I tried to talk him out of that, but I said if you're going to do it, start with the right quality product and this filly is it."
Unlike Hardline, O'Reilly Cyrus is not necessarily a 2-year-old type and gives the impression she might even be better as a 3-year-old.
She was extremely stylish winning on debut at Doomben on December 4 and because Birchley was concerned the filly could become a touch too dour for the Karaka Million if she raced a second time she has subsequently had just one Gold Coast barrier trial on January 12.
She has a magnificent stride as she displayed on Thursday under Clare Muirhead, formerly Weston-Arnold.
O'Reilly Cyrus will be ridden by Queensland-based former Kiwi jockey Damien Browne, who got Hardline to come from near last on the home bend to win last year's Million. "I'm not rapt in the 54.5kg," said Birchley, referring to the point that Browne finds it virtually impossible to ride under 55kg and may have to carry a bit of overweight tomorrow.
After winning last year, Hardline was gelded and spelled.
"He came back and won very nicely at his first two starts then had a minor respiratory operation and is back in work now."
In Final Field fixed odds betting on Thursday the TAB had O'Reilly Cyrus as the $6 second favourite behind Cambridge colt Manolo Blahniq at $2.50. Behind that pair comes: $9.50 Xiong Feng, Sacred Elixir, $10 Caorunn, $12 The Soultaker, $15 Tennessee, $23 What Choux Want.
The Soultaker has the awkward No14 barrier. "At least we have Opie Bosson," says co-trainer Chris Gibbs.