Clayton Chipperfield has never been so happy to finish second. But the bravery his superstar Catalyst showed in the race of the year so far at Flemington on Saturday suggests the Kiwi trainer may not have to get used to the feeling.
Catalyst had to settle for second to Queensland hero Alligator Blood in the A$160,000 C S Hayes Stakes after the two magnificent 3-year-olds eyeballed each other for every stride down the Flemington straight.
There was a moment at the 200m mark when Catalyst may have even got his nose in front, but with the inside running and the bob of the head Alligator Blood beat the Kiwi, holding him fair and square.
They were both spent at the line but have 12 more days to recover before their major aim for the month, the A$1 million Australian Guineas back at Flemington on February 29. It will be followed by the A$5 million All Star Mile on March 14.
February 29 is also Derby Day at Ellerslie as well as the day Te Akau Shark and Probabeel race in Sydney, so it is shaping as one of the most anticipated days in recent New Zealand racing history.
Catalyst's army of followers, particularly in this country, are so smitten most will be naturally biased about what they saw at Flemington.
They don't need to be: Catalyst's was simply the better performance.
Not by much, but by enough to suggest that if both he and Alligator Blood turn up at Flemington with the same levels of performance for the Guineas then Catalyst should win.
The most obvious two reasons are weight and luck in racing.
The Hayes was set weights and penalties so Catalyst carried 1kg more then Alligator Blood. In the Guineas they carry the same weight. It is not much of a difference but Saturday's margin was only a head. At equal weights, Catalyst wins.
As for their runs, Catalyst had to race outside Alligator Blood and covered two metres more. So there goes a significant turnaround margin already, while Catalyst's last 400m was the fastest at the entire meeting.
Add in a slight leaders bias and the fact Chipperfield is adamant the step up to 1600m will suit Catalyst better and the best version of him can, and probably will, turn the tables.
That is by no means downplaying how good Alligator Blood is. He had a vigorous spring, went home to Queensland for a Magic Millions campaign and then back to Victoria. That he has copped all that and beaten Catalyst confirms his growing rock star status.
But the cold hard facts are Catalyst had every disadvantage possible in a six-horse field and all but beat him.
Of course a lot can change in two weeks. Horses lose a per cent of form, fitness or desire. Both great 3-year-olds are away from home and travelling can be hard on horses.
So how the next 12 days go will be crucial, as will their draws because Team Alligator Blood won't relish the thought of having the roles reversed and having to sit outside the Kiwi.
"That was one thing I was thrilled about today, he jumped well and put himself right there," said Chipperfield.
"That gives us options for the Guineas. And while he might be tired for a day or two because that is the hardest race he has had, I am certain he will be a better horse in two weeks.
"He is still on the way back up but the Alligator ... he went very, very well, but I think he was closer to his peak than we were.
"So all in all, I have never been happier to run second."
The scoreboard reads Alligator Blood 1, Catalyst 0. But if Catalyst draws better in the Guineas, he will start favourite.
Where: Flemington, Melbourne.
When: February 29.
How much: A$1 million.
Conditions: Group 1 classic for 3-year-olds 1600m
What: Alligator Blood v Catalyst, round two.
Market NZ TAB: $2.80 equal favourites.