Queensland racing fans over 40 might recognise the name Evan Rayner as he produces class act Start Wondering into today's A$700,000 Doomben 10,000.
The only other time Whanganui-based Rayner campaigned a horse in Queensland was 20 years ago when Major Decision won the Eagle Farm Stakes for him and owners Allegra Corporation.
Those in the sunny state over 60 and beyond might have better reason to remember the master horseman as the Kiwi who raided the Aussie shores in the 1960s and took rodeo titles in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.
Rayner was one of the world greats in the rodeo business and has fond memories of his Queensland competitions, and competitors, on the broncos.
"I love coming back here, it's a great place," Rayner told the Herald yesterday from his Gold Coast base as he put the finishing touches on the horse he hopes can lift one of Queensland's most famous thoroughbred races, a contest that has some of the greats on its honours list: Apache Cat (2), Takeover Target and Falvelon.
Start Wondering has not raced since his gallant second to Kawi in the group 1 Haunui Classic at Otaki on February 25, but that is a plus and very much planned.
"He's a very good horse when he's fresh (3 from 5) and we set him for this race on that basis," says Rayner. The 6-year-old's overall record is very impressive: 10 wins and four seconds from 19 starts.
He is not new to Australia. After Rayner proved Star Wondering's worth, the owners decided his future lay in Australia and he became part of Chris Waller's remarkable Sydney stable. He won three of his five starts, bleeding in the final of them when sixth at Rosehill this week last year.
Since rejoining Rayner, Start Wondering has had six starts for three major wins and two seconds.
"He's done very well here. He's working and eating well and very relaxed. He's more relaxed than I am." At this point you choose not to mention that, unlike in most major Queensland winter races, New Zealanders don't figure prominently in Doomben 10,000 results.
The great Axeman won it for us in 1983 and the Mike Moroney-trained Lord Ballina took it two years later and since then - zip.
The Australian TAB has Start Wondering as fifth favourite at $13 and $3.82 behind Russian Revolution at $3.20, Redzel and the Bjorn Baker-trained Music Mandate on $7 and Fell Swoop at $8.
Sydney-based jockey Tye Angland, currently riding in the best form of his career, even compared to his great rivals Kerryn McEvoy and Hugh Bowman, is a rodeo fan. He was a very successful bull rider before taking up his jockey apprenticeship. Not that time would now allow, but the rodeo circuit could be seriously damaging to a successful jockey's career.
Rayner remembers Angland's father Phil as a fierce competitor when he was competing on the Queensland rodeo circuit in the 1960s. "I didn't get to know him very well, but he was good." Talk to the circumspect Angland and it's obvious the longest eight seconds in sport has his heart. He loves rodeo.
"In racing, you're pretty much in control, you can seek out a run and try to take that run. Riding bulls, you're not in control at all. You control your body but that is just going with the animal." The Doomben track was yesterday officially a soft 7 and Rayner is not too concerned with that. "The information I'm getting is it should come back to a 5 and that would be perfect for him." Start Wondering has drawn barrier No8, which should also be perfect.
On a tight, turning track like Doomben the least desirable draw for a horse like Start Wondering would be No1. From there against the speed of Australian sprinters he would be planted back on the rail and would break into clear air to challenge only when and if rival jockeys allowed it.
From No8 he will be one or two away from the rail and probably with cover. From there he can move forward when his New Zealand rider Jonathan Parkes wishes.
The Doomben home straight is relatively short and it is critical Start Wondering is alongside, or closer behind, the leaders on the home bend.
He can fight like hell and it will be critical he is in the right spot at the 350m. .
Rayner and daughter JJ also have stablemate Flying Fred in Australia and he will make his debut there in a A$14,000 1400m intermediate event at the Gold Coast track today and will be ridden by 2kg claiming Queensland apprentice Jag Guthmann-Chester. who was in good form midweek. "I threw in a cheeky Queensland Derby nomination for him in case he showed good form over here," said Rayner. "I like the horse." Fine young stayer Chocante should represent New Zealand well in his Australian debut in the A$125,000 Chairman's Handicap today.
His two starts in New Zealand this campaign over a too-short 1400m and 1600m have been excellent efforts.
He steps to 2000m this time, has the sting nicely out of the footing, has just 54kg and also widely experienced local jockey Jim Byrne on his back.