Brent Mangos is wary about the return of his stable star South Coast Arden at Alexandra Park tomorrow night and punters would be wise to do the same.
The four-year-old is back for an autumn campaign that could see him contest three Group 1 targets and he looks up to that level after beating open-class horses during a surprising spring that saw him progress from a three-win pacer to starting an Auckland Cup.
But while he is already open-class material, Mangos says tomorrow night is by no means South Coast Arden's grand final and key rivals will be fitter.
"He is ready to go and has won fresh-up so I am not saying he can't win," says Mangos. "But in this grade when rivals are race fit it is hard to beat them. I will drive him patiently.
"I don't want him doing too much and being flattened for the big races coming up so while he is very much there to win I am not sure he can."
South Coast Arden was at his most potent in the spring when driven hard in front, a trait that will make him a handy addition to the open-class ranks, but tomorrow he meets several other members of the emerging open-class crop looking to fill the void left by good free-for-all pacers (Star Galleria, Mach Shard, On The Cards) heading offshore.
Two of those are Kango and Christianshavtime, who are different in stature and racing style but similar in ability.
Kango has been luckless yet huge in recent runs and if he can reach the front it will take a good horse to get past him.
Christianshavtime is a good horse but one who doesn't possess the gate speed yet to lead and that could see him left vulnerable to the tempo of the race, as is often the case in small field 2200m mobiles.
The potential tempo could come from a rejuvenated Dance Time who is fit and will probably press forward so at least gives those settling off the speed a ray of hope they can close late.
But with draws and fitness taken into account Kango is the one to beat.
While Mangos isn't getting carried away with South Coast Arden, he is confident about the debut of juvenile Aztec Shard (5) in race six.
He has won both his trials and showed gate speed in the second of them before sprinting his last 400m in 27.6 around Pukekohe so a performance of that level would make him hard to beat.
"I think he is a Sires' Stakes horse," says Mangos.
"I'd also like to qualify him for the Jewels [Cambridge, June 6] and while it is never easy to win fresh-up, I think he is a good horse."
1 Bolt vs Son: Bolt For Brilliance (Addington R6, No 1) appears to hold the aces over Sundees Son (6) in the NZ Trotting Champs.
This is because from the one draw he has the option to lead or at least stay in front of his rival.
The way they both trotted last start, if Bolt For Brilliance is in front and dialled in then Sundees Son will need to improve two lengths to beat him.
So the $2.80 bookie quote is very fair.
2 The anchor: Five Wise Men (R8, No 7) has been so dominant over this three-year-old crop this year it is hard to find a horse to beat him in the Trotting Derby.
He has looked all along like he would be even better over distance so the step up to 2600m suits and it is surprising he opened at $2.30 because he will probably start in the red.
3 Manners the key: Gaz Man (8) and Call Me Trouble (12) could gallop in race three at Alex Park and that would ruin their chances over 2200m. But one of them, maybe both, should get it right and if they do one of them should be winning so they make sense as a split bet, probably more heavily weighted toward Call Me Trouble.
4 American Pride: (Addington, R10, No 12): Needed the run fresh-up and gets Mark Purdon back in the sulky. Has crucial 10m advantage over the other favourites which could make the difference tactically.
5 Temporale: (Alex Park, R7, No 6) may face a 20m handicap over 2200m but he only has four rivals and beat Bolt For Brilliance fair and square last start. Small fields can be tricky but with any drag into the race he might be too fast for them as his handicap may only mean settling last.