Trainer Tony Pike is preparing to farewell a stable star as he welcomes another back at Ellerslie today.
Vodafone Derby hero Sherwood Forest returns carrying a whopping 62kg in race seven, up against Two Illicit, who he beat in that epic derby in February.
But while Pike is happy to have the big boy back, he may be losing the services of his three-time Australian Group 1 winner Bostonian after he suffered a leg injury this week.
The Doomben 10,000 winner has had a mildly arthritic knee for months but a fetlock issue has flared this week and when being diagnosed a bone chip was also found in a sesamoid.
That means Bostonian will miss the spring and with at least one prognosis suggesting he will be six months away from resuming training, Pike admits the curtain could be drawn on Bostonian's stellar career.
"That is by no means certain and the final decision will, of course, lie with David [Archer, owner] but he has done a wonderful job and has nothing left to prove," says Pike.
New Zealand-trained sprinters winning Group 1 races in Australia are rare enough but no other Kiwi thoroughbred in the last 40 years has won three. So while he was never a superstar at home, Bostonian did New Zealand racing proud.
Sherwood Forest could hardly be more different from his stablemate, liking neither wet tracks nor right-handers, a combination of which could be a problem today.
Sherwood Forest hasn't raced since April and although he was good enough to finish third to Catalyst in the 2000 Guineas last spring, today's 1400m will probably be too short.
"I can see him jumping out and staying handy but being flat-footed across the top and fighting to the line just behind the placegetters," is Pike's assessment.
"He isn't as good in the wet and he can wobble a little bit on that top bend right-handed and of course he has the 62kg.
"While he and the two mares, Two Illicit and Concert Hall, have a huge class edge, with all of them returning today I wouldn't be surprised if something down in the weights beat us all today."
Trainer Roger James wasn't thrilled to see overnight rain in Auckland return the course to a heavy10 yesterday, with Ellerslie racing boss Craig Baker suggesting the track could get to a slow8 today but potentially provide holding footing.
"On Thursday when it was a slow8 and I thought it might get to a 7 or even a 6, I thought she [Two Illicit] could win," says James. "But on a heavy, I don't think so. She is coming up great and has really strengthened since last season but this is a kick-off point so she isn't screwed down at all.
"We will make a call on Concert Hall first thing in the morning.
"She has been an abject failure in the past on a heavy track and it is not as crucial for her to start, whereas with Two Illicit she will need this race to get her ready for Hawke's Bay next month."
Two Illicit was so dazzling at her best last season even with so many factors against her she might still win today.
Cup campaign begins
Don't expect too much from New Zealand's first raiders of the Melbourne spring at Flemington today.
The Chosen One (R5, 4.15pm) has to lump 61.5kg fresh-up over 1700m against some talented opposition while ATC Derby winner Quick Thinker (R7, 5.35pm) is in even deeper, up against a host of Group 1 winners in the Makybe Diva over 1600m, as the pair embark on their Melbourne Cup campaigns.
"We know how hard it is going to be for both of them," admits co-trainer Andrew Forsman.
"The Chosen One, in particular, galloped well the other day.
"But you would think they have to be behind where many of their rivals are going to be this weekend.
"I suppose if it rains it would bring Quick Thinker into it more but really this is a starting point for both of them and they should improve a lot with it."
One of the boldest calls of the spring faces a tough first-up examination at Rosehill in Sydney today. Champion trainer Gai Waterhouse was so thrilled with the recent trial of Golden Slipper winner Farnan she suggested he won't be beaten this spring.
That boast will get a thorough examination in the A$200,000 Run To The Rose as he meets Queensland star Rothfire, who has already secured a slot in the Everest, emerging three-year-old North Pacific and last season's other standout juvenile King's Legacy.
Kiwis at Kembla
Kembla Grange probably doesn't register on the radar of most New Zealand punters on a Saturday afternoon but it will be the epicentre of the Kiwi raid on New South Wales today.
Matamata trainer Jamie Richards will line up two reps at the meeting, with Pazienza (race three) and Get Hitched (race eight) good chances.
Pazienza won her only start in New Zealand and then her debut trial in Sydney while Get Hitched started her career in New South Wales, came to New Zealand, won, and has returned back to her homeland.
Although Kembla Grange might sound minor compared with the glamour horses returning at Rosehill, the maidens still race for A$35,000 and there aren't many soft targets, with all of Sydney's elite stables having multiple reps today.
The early money
Even with the heavy track concerns, Two Illicit has been one of the best backed early with the TAB, opening at $3.50 and into $3 after a string of bets including one of $1000.
"Others to have early support include Shoshone (Ellerslie, R6) who has been $4.50 into $4 with the track coming up wet," says TAB bookie Stephen Hunt. "And at Riccarton, Bronte Beach (race six) has been the one with the early money on."