When it comes to taking on the best horses, where there is doubt there is hope. Today's $100,000 Jamieson Park Avondale Guineas at Ellerslie has a little bit of both.

On paper, where races are rarely won, Dragon Leap looks the best horse in the group two and should win.

He has been beaten only once, when he cost himself certain victory over what has turned into an outstanding filly in Two Illicit and last start he downed a super sharp three-year-old in Riodini in the Auckland Guineas.

All season the Vodafone Derby at Ellerslie in a fortnight has been Dragon Leap's main target and with that 2400m now so close, the step up to 2100m today sounds perfect.

Advertisement

So Dragon Leap should win. Until you factor in his scratching from the race his trainers wanted to start in last Saturday, the Waikato Guineas.

Dragon Leap was pulled out of that on race morning after waking with a temperature, which has long since disappeared and he has pleased co-trainer Lance O'Sullivan with his work this week.

"He is good to go," says O'Sullivan.

"The little setback he had last week is not an issue but he has had a relatively easy time and the Derby is obviously the grand final.

"So we haven't tightened him right down yet but he is a naturally athletic horse so he will be fit enough to go very well."

That might simply be enough and maybe it shouldn't put you off backing Dragon Leap because class tends to win more races than it loses.

But for a rival trainer such as Tony Pike, who has Sherwood Forest in the Guineas, that glimmer of doubt which always arises when a horse hits a judder bar on the road to a group one, increases his hopes.

"He might be too good, Dragon Leap, because he is an exceptional horse," says Pike.

Advertisement

"But they have had that setback, as small as it might be, whereas my horse has already had a win against older horses last time out."

That was when Sherwood Forest shouldered 59kg to beat Dunstan Feeds Finals quinella mates Paisley Park and Joe's Legacy at Te Aroha on January 24.

Beating quality horses at R82 level carrying that weight is no small feat for a three-year-old so Sherwood Forest has no doubts over fitness or the distance.

That is the equation for punters, weighing the sheer class of Dragon Leap, when he may still have a few screws to be tightened, versus a seemingly bombproof, more race-hardened rival in Sherwood Forest.

The chance don't stop there of course, with Scorpz looking a Derby horse, albeit his wins having come against horses yet to win anything major. Still, he won the Salver on this track over 2100m mid-December so we knew he could stay two months ago.

Add in some Central Districts newcomers to Ellerslie and the Guineas has a few unknowns but it will take a good horse or back luck to beat Dragon Leap and Sherwood Forest.

One horse who knows how to find bad luck is Sherwood Forest's stablemate Intrigue, who contests the $100,000 Joe McDonald Avondale Cup after the Guineas.

She would have won the Karaka Stayers Cup last start but for the jockey dropping his whip at the crucial stage and she faces a wide barrier today, albeit with the 2400m starting point giving rider Michael Coleman a long run to the first bend to find a spot. Pike says the mare's 52kg weight could counter that.

"Having only 52kg she can probably roll forward and try to find a spot rather than going back and having to come 10 wide on the bend to run a nice fourth," he offers.

If Coleman can find that spot Intrigue looks the one to beat, especially with key rivals Concert Hall (58.5kg) and Platinum Invador (59kg) getting high in the weights.

But there is good depth to the field and each way punters could do worse than Starrybeel, last season's Dunstan Feeds winner, who is back in winning form and has the perfect combination of draw and light weight.

Today's major races

12.20pm:

First race at Ellerslie.

3.15pm:

$100,000 Jamieson Park Avondale Guineas.

3.34pm:

$70,000 Southland Guineas.

3.50pm:

$100,000 Joe McDonald Avondale Cup.

4.09pm:

$50,000 Invercargill Cup.

4.50pm:

A$160,000 C S Hayes Stakes, Flemington.

6.10pm:

A$750,000 Lightning Stakes.