As far as dress rehearsals go, you don't get much better than the performance free-going stayer Big Mike put on at Te Rapa on Saturday.
Last year's Listed Pakenham Cup (2500m) winner was on trial for another trip across the Tasman for trainers Craig and Shaun Phelan and he passed with flying colours as he led all the way to record a hollow victory over 2100m in the opening race on the day.
Ridden by regular rider Vinnie Colgan, the 6-year-old Don Eduardo gelding looked to be relishing his work throughout and has now provided his trainers with a decision to make on exactly where he will head in the immediate future.
"We really wanted to see a run like that after the hiccup he had in the Easter Handicap [Group 2, 1600m], where he finished last," Shaun Phelan said. "It was great to see him bounce back like that and we can now sit down and plan where he goes next.
"We are keen on some of the races in Brisbane, but the problem is there are no direct flights available now.
"That means he will either have to go to Sydney and make a float trip up to Brisbane or he can go for a one-race raid to Melbourne.
"The option in Melbourne is the Andrew Ramsden [Listed, 2800m] next Saturday or he can race over 2400m in Sydney in a fortnight and then go to Brisbane for the Brisbane Cup [Group 2, 2400m] and the Caloundra Cup [Listed, 2400m] after that."
While Phelan isn't sure exactly which path they will take with the eight-race winner, he was taking some time yesterday to enjoy his first victory as a trainer in the newly minted partnership with father Craig.
"I guess it was quite appropriate that the first win we had together is with the best horse in our stable," he said. "It was also great to have Vinnie on board as he is a good family friend. It was a great start to the day."
Phelan tried hard to make it a unique double on the day with a victory in his capacity as one of NZ's leading jumps riders but had to settle for a second placing on maiden hurdler El Fernando as well as finishing third on Tommyra in the Waikato Hurdles (3200m).
"El Fernando went a really good race but the winner [Woodsman] was just too good with his pace on the flat and the 3kg allowance."
- NZ Racing Desk