A season-long game of cat and mouse could end at Hastings today unless Loire returns to her best form in the $100,000 Little Avondale Lowland Stakes.
Loire may have nothing left to prove after winning the 1000 Guineas back in November, guaranteeing a highly-commercial broodmare career for Trelawney Stud but trainer Tony Pike still has some lofty targets to try to embellish that record.
One of those is the NZ Oaks at Trentham on March 14 where she could also be in contention for the prestigious Filly of the Year title.
But for the latter to still be realistic, Loire needs to return to her winning ways over arch rival Jennifer Eccles today. They have been locked in battle all season dating back to the Gold Trail Stakes on this track in September, with Loire holding a 3-2 head to head advantage.
Their battles have hardly been definitive though with draws and field position usually dictating who came out on top and rarely by much.
Case in point, Jennifer Eccles had by far the better run when trailing and then bolting clear in their last clash, the Ellis Fillies Classic at Te Rapa two weeks ago, with the track and the closing sectionals all favouring the winner.
But while Jennifer Eccles won so easily could be attributed to some of those factors, Loire was still plain by her high standards when third, six lengths from the winner.
Pike blames himself.
"She looked only okay that day but I think I was too easy on her after her previous run at Trentham, she was too fat," he says.
"She is definitely going to be fitter for this week and she has a better draw than she did the last time they met."
That could be crucial, with Loire at barrier two and Jennifer Eccles to jump from nine, with the latest addition to their previously private war in Showbeel at barrier eight.
The more horses Loire can put between herself and Jennifer Eccles early today the better as she needs to not only win but, if not, beat her arch rival home to stay in contention for the Filly of the Year title.
Jennifer Eccles leads that series with 24.5 from Loire on 18.5 and Showbeel on 11.5 and today's winner gets eight points, runner-up gets four points and two points for third.
The last leg they are both likely to contest, the NZ Oaks, is worth 12 points to the winner but theoretically if Jennifer Eccles won today and Loire doesn't finish second, Jennifer Eccles could be home for the FOTY title, although a dead-heat like last season would still be possible.
"I think she [Loire] will be handier than last start and Jennifer Eccles will have to be good to beat her," says Pike.
Such is the respect the two fillies connections have for each other's horses, Jennifer Eccles trainer Shaune Ritchie agrees.
"It is going to be a lot harder for us this week than at Te Rapa," says Ritchie. "With the Oaks still a big aim, Jason [Waddell, jockey] can't afford to be going forward out at the gate in case we get trapped wide and she gets too keen.
"So she is going to be back and having to try and get a cart into the race and that will make it hard to give Loire and maybe Showbeel a start."
A group two $100,000 race is always a big deal, especially for fillies. Today it could be worth so much more than usual.