Tony Pike has a shock warning for punters looking forward to the long-anticipated return of superstar galloper Catalyst at Hastings on Saturday.
The Cambridge trainer says if the amount of rain forecast for Hawke's Bay this week eventuates, Catalyst won't start in the $220,000 Tarzino Trophy feature race.
Pike will accept for the first Group 1 of the season with Catalyst, the champion three-year-old of two seasons ago who has raced only once in the last 18 months because of unsoundness. But he will wait until at least Friday to confirm a start.
"The forecast down there is not great and if the track came up slow for Saturday I doubt he will start," said Pike, the new trainer of the former 2000 Guineas winner.
"The last thing he needs is a hard run in a Group 1 1400m fresh up on a slow track in his first start for a year.
"That could really undo him for the spring and I'd be very reluctant to start him on anything looking like a truly slow track.
"While the forecast isn't great, we are hoping it improves and at least the horses don't travel down until Saturday morning so we have until then to make a final decision, although we might have an idea by Friday because we will know how much rain has fallen.
"He is ready to go and he will be in the field when it comes out on Wednesday but there is no guarantee he will start, just so punters know."
Catalyst has been vying for favouritism for the Tarzino for the last 10 days, after Avantage disappointed on her comeback race, the Foxbridge Plate at Te Rapa.
The winner of that race, Mascar-pone, isn't in the Tarzino this week nor is Tavi Mac, who trainer Allan Sharrock has ruled out.
So Avantage, who pleased trainer Jamie Richards in her work on Tuesday, is back as the Tarzino favourite and could tighten once Pike's doubts about Catalyst on a wet track are factored into the market.
The fields for the first day of the Hawke's Bay carnival are due out on Wednesday morning, with another potential surprise being Frontman, who returned with a win at Te Rapa last Saturday, a chance to back up this week.
While Catalyst is no certainty to be at Hastings come Saturday, owners will be allowed to watch their horses live at the huge meeting, the unofficial launch of spring for New Zealand thoroughbred racing.
After being cautious and not allowing owners back on track to see their horses even when most of the country returned to Covid-19 alert level 2 last week, New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing (NZTR) and clubs have agreed that from Friday the clubs with the ability to comply with strict regulations can allow owners with horses racing on the day to attend meetings.
Owners who want to attend will have to register that intention with the clubs and will then he kept to pods of 50 per room, not allowed to mix with the other pods and with separate entry and exit points and bathrooms.
Those attending will also have to wear masks when not eating or drinking, with the club's protocols to be peer-reviewed before the meeting, while NZTR will also pay Covid compliance officers to make sure protocols are adhered to.
"We have given clubs the options to have owners on track and are thrilled a club like Hawke's Bay can provide that for a Group 1 day," NZTR chief executive Bernard Saundry said.
"But owners need to be aware not all clubs will be able to do that so it will be a case by case for each meeting."