Early pressure, or a lack thereof, should decide the first open-class pace of the season at Alexandra Park tonight, and that complex puzzle could leave punters wishing they could bet after the first 400m.

Most of the north's New Zealand Cup contenders clash in the $17,500 Dunstan Speedfeed Mobile, with only last week's Alex Park winner Copy That and On The Cards, who won a July 1 race, having any race fitness.

The rest of the big names trialled against each other at Pukekohe last Friday, with Mach Shard winning for new driver Tony Herlihy.

His trainer Barry Purdon has four in tonight's race and opts for Mach Shard as potentially his best chance but the bookies don't agree, with Belle Of Montana rated the $2.90 second favourite behind Copy That, but Mach Shard a very generous $9.50 in opening markets.

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Hall of Fame trainer Purdon warns his assessment comes with a caveat.

"It is a really hard race to predict," admits Purdon. "I have three on the front line and they all have gate speed but I will leave their tactics up to the drivers," he said.

"Obviously if a mare like Wainui Creek led and stayed there it would help Belle Of Montana because she could be trailing her from the second line but there is so much gate speed in the front line, including my other two. So I really don't know what to expect. I would rate Mach Shard the best of mine starting the season, narrowly over Belle Of Montana.

"Let's not forget Mach Shard did finish second in the Inter Dominion Final. But then you have a horse like Copy That who is a really good horse."

Adding to that early pressure could be the attitude of Steve Telfer, who has three in the race.

"Mine have only had one workout so Triple Eight will go back at the start from his wide draw and hope they go hard," says Telfer.

"But my other two, Check In and Dance Time, can't afford to pull back at the start because they have good draws and there is no point settling worse than midfield.

"So they will be holding their place at least."

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While Copy That has race fitness on his side this is his first open-class test and his $2.10 opening price looks short so Mach Shard probably represents the value.

Opening night

What:

First night of the new harness racing season.

Where: Alexandra Park, Auckland.

When: First of 12 races at 5.24pm.

Who: The best open-class pacers in the north.

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