A weekend of Derby drama is set to spill over into today.
That is when it should become clearer whether long-time favourite Dragon Leap will turn up in the $1 million Vodafone Derby at Ellerslie on February 29.
The Auckland Guineas winner missed the Waikato Guineas at Te Rapa on Saturday after presenting with a high temperature on Saturday morning. As it turned out he would have needed to be something special to beat freakish filly Two Illicit.
The latter jogged home by seven and a half lengths, thrashing an out of sorts Travelling Light and her winning time for the 2000m was just 0.3 of a second outside Tiptronic's run in the $400,000 Herbie Dyke.
Considering how fast they rolled along in the Herbie Dyke, the fact that Two Illicit could all but match the time of the weight-for-age horses at just her sixth start and with jockey Vinnie Colgan craning his neck backward in victory disbelief suggests Two Illicit is peaking at the perfect time for the Derby.
She will have to be officially entered for the race but co-trainer Roger James has confirmed that will happen and she will go to the Derby here before potentially reverting to fillies races at the Sydney carnival all going well.
But while Two Illicit is heading to the Derby with the right trainers and jockey to get the job done, the immediate future of Dragon Leap is not so clear.
Co-trainer Lance O'Sullivan told the Herald the exceptional colt is expected to be at Ellerslie on Saturday for the Avondale Guineas but that is not certain.
"It was only a slight temperature and seemed fine by Saturday night," says O'Sullivan.
"But we will look at him again on Monday and if he is okay, which we expect him to be, then he will go to Ellerslie for the Guineas.
"If there are still any signs of something being wrong, then he will miss the Avondale Guineas and therefore the Derby. Again, I don't think that will be the case but just in case it is, we would have the Derby in Sydney as the next target."
As good as Dragon Leap is, O'Sullivan wouldn't take away from what Two Illicit achieved on Saturday.
"She was exceptional that filly and our fella would have needed to be very good to beat her."
If Dragon Leap does make it to Ellerslie on Saturday he will have a new rider, with Jason Waddell who was down to ride him on Saturday committed to Scorpz. Opie Bosson will be in the saddle for the Guineas but would almost certainly not be available for the Derby as he would have Te Akau Shark and Probabeel commitments in Sydney that day.
"There is a lot of water to go under the bridge before then but Opie looks a no for the Derby ride and we would prefer to stick with a NZ-based rider who knows the form," says O'Sullivan.
"But we are not getting too far ahead of ourselves."
One former favourite who wouldn't need a Derby rider is Travelling Light, who is off to the paddock and will miss both the Derby and NZ Oaks.
"She pulled up shin sore, that is why we didn't see the best of her," confirms trainer Ben Foote. "She will have two weeks in the paddock and we will reassess. If she bounces back quickly she could head to Sydney, maybe even for 1600m type races which we will nominate for this week. But we might also look at the Queensland carnival depending on how long she needs off. She'll be fine. You haven't seen the best of her yet."
Two Illicit and Travelling Light weren't the only exciting fillies on show at Te Rapa, with Jennifer Eccles going a long way to securing the NZB Filly of the Year title in the Ellis Classic. She bolted in over Showbeel and Loire and has shortened dramatically in the NZ Oaks market, for which she will use the Lowland Stakes at Hastings on February 26 as her final lead-up.
"The Lowland is definitely her next race and we will confirm the Oaks after that," said trainer Shaune Ritchie.
The much-changed market for the $1 million classic at Ellerslie on February 29.
$2.60: Two Illicit
$3.20: Dragon Leap
$8: Sherwood Forest.
$10: Reggiewood, Scorpz
$14: Tibetan, Travelling Light (not starting)
$26 or longer: The rest