Trainer Jamie Richards says the Melody Belle fan club might need to temper their love for the great mare a touch for her comeback race on Saturday.
Although he thinks she can win the A$500,000 Futurity at Caulfield, he believes there is still improvement to come in the darling of New Zealand racing. Melody Belle will be having her first start since November. But as a group one winner at Flemington that month she finds herself in the rare position as a New Zealand-trained favourite for a serious Australian weight-for-age race.
It is a position Richards will also find himself in again the following Saturday with Te Akau Shark in the Chipping Norton in Sydney. But the difference is The Shark will have had a lead-up race whereas Melody Belle has not. And perhaps, even more tellingly, her key rivals Super Seth and Kolding have.
They are high-class animals, Super Seth having beaten Alligator Blood in the Caulfield Guineas in the spring while Kolding won the Epsom and Golden Eagle last year.
"They definitely have the advantage over us this week," admits Richards.
"I think she can win and while she has been beaten fresh up last campaign that was over 1200m whereas I think 1400m around Caulfield is almost ideal."
Melody Belle looked very sharp during an exhibition gallop at Ellerslie on Karaka Million night but was only third to Bostonian in a recent 1000m trial where she hit a flat spot at the top of the straight. Richards believes putting blinkers, which she didn't wear in the trial, back on her for Saturday should help with that and obviously 1400m is getting closer to her winning range.
"We got a good barrier draw at three so [jockey] Opie [Bosson] should be able to keep her handy enough and she will race well but yes, she might be vulnerable a touch." Melody Belle is primarily in Victoria for the A$5 million All Star Mile at Caulfield on March 14, a race she will be confirmed as a starter in today.
While she will be the star of the show for Richards and Te Akau on Saturday, it will be some show as the stable has two winning chances in the group one Haunui Farm Classic at Otaki while Karaka Million winner Cool Aza Beel resumes on his home track at Matamata.
The latter has drawn barrier one in the $70,000 Waikato Stud Slipper and while he had a week off after his Million heroics Richards says he has the class to win on Saturday as he heads to the Sistema at Ellerslie on March 7.
"I think from the draw he can jump, rail up and be the horse to beat."
The stable also has Te Akau Caliburn on trial for the Auckland Cup in the Matamata Vet Kaimai Stakes on Saturday where he has a tricky wide draw over 2000m.
"He is racing well and I think we have to give him his shot at an Auckland Cup but I would have loved to see him draw better on Saturday."
There are no complaints with the draws for Avantage (barrier one) and Pris De Fer (six) for the group one at Otaki but the field boasts plenty of depth, with most proven top-level milers.
Avantage has raced beyond 1400m only once and was poor in the 1500m Shannon Stakes at group two level in Sydney in the spring but that whole campaign was a disaster. From the ace she should be able to stay closer to the speed than she did at Te Rapa last start and Richards thinks the likelihood of a soft track will aid her.
"She has won at group three level in Sydney on a soft track and while it won't bother her it might not help a couple of her main rivals in The Mitigator and Shadows Cast, so she will get her chance."
"Pris De Fer will need to step up to another level but he is well and has be a show as well but this is a race we aren't taking lightly," says Richards. As they shouldn't, with the emerging Germanicus a last-start Anniversary winner and The Chosen One and Rondinella both having form at the very elite level in Australia.